Saturday, June 14, 2008

Potter County Sheriff convicted of bribe taking; comprehensive audit needed of jail commissary contract awards

An all-woman jury yesterday in Amarillo brought back a guilty verdict against Potter County Sheriff Mike Shumate for taking bribes from the Dallas-based commissary manager, Mid-America Services. The "bribes" the state was able to prove were mostly meals, though quite a few of them, according to the Amarillo Globe News ("Shumate guilty," June 13):

Shumate testified he never took any bribes, but did say he accepted meals from Austin and Jack Madera, the founder of Mid-America.

Prosecutors with the Texas Attorney General's Office have shown receipts and bank statements that show Shumate attended about 36 meals with Madera and/or Austin that were paid for by the Mid-America employees.

During testimony, Shumate said Madera offered him $10,000, but that he declined the money.

"I said I didn't need it," Shumate testified.

Hmmmm. I'd prefer the Sheriff had replied to Mr. Madera, "It's illegal to try to bribe a public official. You're under arrest." (Madera has since died of cancer.)

Mid-America Services was also previously accused of bribing former Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles, but charges against Bowles and Madera were dropped after the Sheriff left office.

Commissary contracts have been a big source of alleged corruption in Texas Sheriff's Departments in the past year. In Bexar and Kleberg Counties, a Louisiana based company called "Premier" allegedly bribed the Bexar County Sheriff with swank golfing trips and gave the Kleberg Sheriff private consulting contracts after he left office.

In San Antonio, DA Susan Reed asked a grand jury to indict the Sheriff on bribery charges, but did not pursue them against the company allegedly doing the bribing. Unlike in Amarillo, she and the Sheriff were from opposite political parties and some locals thought the charges smacked of political opportunism. In Amarillo, though, the Sheriff and DA are both Republicans and the alleged briber has been indicted, too. (Unlike in Bexar, the DA handed off actual prosecution duties in the case to the Attorney General.)

Looking back at past Grits coverage, I find the conclusion I arrived at last year still applies equally well today:
It's clear that Texas needs to perform a comprehensive investigation/audit of county jail commissary contracts statewide. The obvious entity to investigate would be Attorney General Greg Abbott. But that would anger a lot of local pols and generate entirely predictable blowback, so I'm not holding my breath for him to do that. Otherwise, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards lacks the staff and perhaps the expertise and authority. The State Auditor might be another agency that could investigate in greater detail. Or perhaps one of the legislative committees on criminal justice will include the subject in an interim study.

But since none of that is likely to happen anytime soon, for now I'd call on every local newspaper and media outlet in the state (including any ambitious bloggers) to talk to your local Sheriffs' Office. Find out if commissary services are contracted or performed in house, and if it's a contract, file open records requests for all the communications you can lay your hands on between the company and the department, particularly the Sheriff. Odds are, similar corruption is going on elsewhere that nobody has uncovered yet.
That's as true today as when I wrote it; to my knowledge no one has begun to comprehensively examine how counties award commissary contracts despite the rash of alleged corruption. Once may be an anomaly, twice a coincidence, but three cases in a year seems to be a pattern. Where will the next allegations of jail commissary corruption crop up, and who will discover them?

Sheriff Shumate's sentencing hearing will occur on Tuesday.


Anonymous said...

Since you are reporting on this I just wanted to mention that the key witness of the state was the sheriff's ex wife. She had a lot to do with conviction of the former sheriff. The Amarillo paper has the story, I would have liked to have seen the state prosectue without the ex wife in the picture. Thier marriage was rocky the last few years and was by all reports handled badly by both.

Anonymous said...

ok too early in the morning for typing..

Thier marriage was rocky the last few years and by all reports the divorce was handled badly by both.

I need cofee.

Anonymous said...

And after the bribes, the food STILL isn't any good.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That reminds me of the old joke, "Do you know why divorces are expensive? A: Because they're worth it!"

For similar reasons, fwiw, when I was a professional oppo researcher divorce proceedings were frequently a gold mine of leads and accusations. "Hell hath no fury," indeed!

Anonymous said...

Grits - since I'm not very good at looking things up on the interweb, do you know what other Texas counties Mid-america has contracts with. I recall a large county on the South Plains last Christmas had Mid-America providing all the food for the sheriff's Xmas party. Was attended by many county, city, and state officials and their spouses. One spouse is the anchor of the highest rated television news show. Was a very brief, one day story. Never heard of it again.

Anonymous said...

jlester - I've been in the bidness for 35 plus years and have never known a sheriff who wasn't an ego maniac. Just haven't known them all, only 40 or 50.

Anonymous said...

Supposedly, Comal County was also being looked at after te Bexar County Sheriff's fiasco

Anonymous said...

Grits, I hear that the "little napoleon probation chief" in Bexar County FIRED the messenger. Could you please find out more?

Anonymous said...

Now, if only the feds would go after these U.S. Senators for getting preferential mortgage loans.

I really think going after this sheriff for the meals is a waste of the taxpayers money, but I'm with Grits, he should have slapped the cuffs on the guy when he offered him a bribe.