Because Willacy County politics is a complete zoo, sometimes literally, I avoid the more lascivious stories about Mr. Guerra and his various feuds with other local officials. His past exploits are why most observers (including this blog) have been dismissive of the Cheney and Gonzales indictments, but the Herald offers up the most sympathetic account yet published of Guerra's effort to drag national political figures into the mix in Raymondville. Guerra alleges that Alberto Gonzales intervened to stop an investigation into a private prison firm operating the local jail, a business in which the Vice President has personal investments:
He is most interested in "cutting the head off the snake - which is cutting off what Gonzales and Cheney are doing," Guerra told The Brownsville Herald on Wednesday.
The DA is referring to Vice-President Richard B. Cheney's and former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' alleged neglect of inmates and failure to oversee operations of privately managed and owned prisons that contract with governmental agencies to house inmates. He claims that Cheney has investments worth more than $85 million in the Vanguard Group, which in turn invests in for-profit prisons and profits from Cheney's neglect.
He alleges that Gonzales stopped investigations into assaults at for-profit prisons in Willacy County.
A Willacy County grand jury indicted Cheney and Gonzales Nov. 17. "We the Grand Jury of Willacy County Texas duly selected and empanelled, and with great sadness, concerned and because we love our country have no choice but to move to indict our sitting Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Alberto Gonzales . . . ," the indictment states.
The grand jury also indicted the GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp., Warden David Forrest and other high-profile officials for a stream of alleged offenses from organized criminal activity, murder/manslaughter, accepting fees from private prison firms by virtue of public office to official oppression.
Has he really lost it psychologically this time as some persons suggest? ...
"Does it mean that 12 people lost it also?" Guerra said of the grand jury that returned the Nov. 17 indictments.
Some say that Guerra "could be off," but "like a fox."
Yet others, like Nueces County retired state District Judge Michael J. Westergren, who has practiced law for nearly 40 years, think Guerra is on to something.
Westergren told The Brownsville Herald Wednesday that Guerra is the only one who has had the "gumption" to investigate privately owned and managed prisons and their lack of oversight.
"I certainly think it is a serious matter. It's not frivolous by any means," Westergren said, referring to Guerra's case relating to private prison firms. He said there is "substantial support" to the allegations.
Opining that investigations into activities within the private prison system had been suppressed, Westergren said, "That's not good."
"It's a nationwide problem," said Westergren, adding that the incidence of death in private prisons is estimated to be substantially higher than at other facilities. "That's pretty bad," he said.
Guerra said he invited Westergren to his office to view the evidence. Westergren described himself as an "unpaid consultant."
The indictments against Cheney, Gonzales, GEO and Forrest revolve around the 2001 beating murder of Gregorio de la Rosa in the jail in Willacy County that Wackenhut managed, Guerra said.
The Cheney connection still seems awfully slim to me without some evidence the Veep did more than invest in a private prison company. But if Guerra can show the former Attorney General personally intervened to stop a Justice Department investigation into De la Rosa's murder (or other assaults at Raymondville's various private prisons - they're the town's biggest industry), perhaps there may turn out to be some fire, or at least a little heat, behind all the smoke Mr. Guerra is blowing.
UPDATE: Indictments dismissed.