Willacy County District Attorney
A Texas judge has set an arraignment date for Friday for Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. They were indicted this week by a Texas grand jury on state charges accusing them of responsibility for prisoner abuse in a privately run federal jail. We speak with Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra. [includes rush transcript]
A Texas judge has set an arraignment date for Friday for Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. They were indicted this week by a Texas grand jury on state charges accusing them of responsibility for prisoner abuse in a privately run federal jail. Cheney, Gonzales and the others named in the indictments will not be arrested and do not need to appear in person at the arraignment, the judge said.
One indictment charges Cheney and Gonzales with engaging in organized criminal activity. It alleges they neglected federal prisoners and are responsible for abuses in the privately run prisons in Willacy County in South Texas.
The grand jury accused Cheney of a conflict of interest because of his alleged influence over the county’s federal immigrant prison and his investments in the Vanguard Group, which invests in private prison companies. The indictment accuses Gonzales of using his influence to stop an investigation into corruption during the building of another federal jail.
The indictments were bought by Willacy District Attorney Juan Guerra. Guerra has been in office more than a dozen years but was defeated in the March Democratic primary. He leaves office December 31st.
An attorney for one of the private prison operators filed motions accusing Guerra of prosecutorial vindictiveness. Four of the eight indictments Guerra brought target judges and special prosecutors who played a role in an earlier investigation of him. On Wednesday, the judge, Manuel Banales, said he would not listen to motions to quash the indictments, because District Attorney Guerra was not in court.
Willacy County District Attorney Juan Guerra joins us now from a studio in Houston. Welcome to Democracy Now! Lay out your indictments against the Vice President and former Attorney General, Juan Guerra.
JUAN ANGEL GUERRA:
Well, I mean, it’s — trying to lay it out in a very, very compact — first of all, this investigation has been going on for quite a bit. I personally started back in ’01, when the death of De La Rosa occurred, and so that quickly escalated. I prosecuted the individuals that killed De La Rosa, the other two inmates, and at that point I realized that the security and the welfare of the inmates was very lax. And at the same time, we also learned — I investigated the auditor, who was in the — also involved in the corruption. So the two things were coming in at the same time. So when the issue came up about the corruption, we brought the federals to get involved.
The federals picked up the investigation and dragged it all through 2006. In November 2006, they convicted the commissioners and Cortez, who worked for a private prison. But then, a week later, Cortez and commissioners were given only a three-month sentence, and at that point, they basically shut down the investigation. The US attorney for the southern district who was under investigation was — informed me that the investigation was over, even though just a week prior had told me that these individuals were given very light sentences, because they were bringing down higher-ups. So that stopped the federal investigation.
That was in ’06, when — the same time the other eight US attorneys were also told to stop other investigations. So I felt that at that point I needed to continue with the investigation. I knew basically, you know — since I was the one that started it, I continued it. That’s where my problem started at that point. You know, I ended up getting arrested, getting indicted in frivolous charges. And so, I knew that I was stepping on people’s toes. The person that indicted me was Marvin Mosbacker, who was there when we started the investigation, working under the Cheney and Bush administration. He was an attorney working under them, so they brought him in, Marvin Mosbacker, an ex-US attorney for the southern district, to go ahead and indict me.
So we continued tracking the money all these years, and finally my charges were dismissed about two weeks ago, after eighteen months of being indicted. And, of course, that hurt my being elected. The question was, do I just look the other way? The foot soldiers at the FBI and the Texas Rangers were telling me that I was on my own, because, you know, that the private investigation was off-limits. So I continued on my own in gathering information. Four months ago, we started Operation Goliath, when they thought that I had already lost the election and that the investigation —- I mean, it was pretty much over. And so, that kind of left me open, because nobody knew that I had started the investigation again. And so, not even my staff, nobody knew in my little county. I was working out of my office, and I only trusted very few people. So we started bringing experts from throughout the country with regard to the private prisons, and then we started following the money. And there’s no -—
Juan Guerra, just to get clear now, the relationship of Cheney and Gonzales to this, to what you say is corruption and mistreatment of prisoners in private prisons? What was their connection to this?
JUAN ANGEL GUERRA:
Well, the connection, it’s organizing criminal activity. It has all the elements. Vice President Cheney is at the very top, and he has a lot of influence on ICE and Homeland Security. They determine how much money they’re going to pay the private prisons per day and per person. So, right now, the contracts go through the GEO Group, which is one of the highest, the biggest private prisons, CCA and Cornell. Now, these three are the biggest companies. When you round up the inmates, this is where they end up. Their money is — they’re getting paid at —- right now it’s at $80 per person per day. It used to be $54, now it’s $80. And that’s controlled by the administration as to how much money they’re going to pay per person. They’re fixing to going up to $120. So this -—
Juan Guerra, the Vice President’s attorney says this is bizarre, that you had Cheney invested in Vanguard Group, which is a mutual fund that, yes, does invest in the private prison industry, but can you indict him for being responsible for abusive behavior in the prison?
JUAN ANGEL GUERRA:
Well, yes, because, again, you have the activities, the criminal activities, that his involvement is that he is aware with the Vanguard Group. The Vanguard Group has invested — is invested. It’s a top ten companies that are investing in the three top private prisons companies, the private prisons. So if you follow Vanguard, then he ended up investing $85 million. The problem here is that the Vanguard Group is not part of his blind trust. This is money that he has, quote, "on the side." It is reported in his income tax with his signature there. So he knows exactly where his money is invested. If this was part of his blind trust, then he would have no control. So because he has control, so now they’re trying to increase the number, the price. Instead of $80, they’re trying to go to $120, which means that these private companies are going to end up making more money, which means that Vanguard would make more money, which means that obviously the Vice President would make more money.
And Alberto Gonzales’s connection?
JUAN ANGEL GUERRA:
That’s one. You have the top boss, which is the Vice President, and then you have Alberto Gonzales, the enforcer to making sure that that criminal activity which is going on in the private prisons —- we had numerous deaths that are occurring throughout our country. We brought in experts and witnesses that were telling us that the numbers of prison inmates dying in the private prisons is staggering. It’s about five times as high as the public prisons, so that all this criminal activity that is going on is contributed to now allowing investigations into what is going. Alberto Gonzales’s part was to make sure that private prisons would not get investigated, so that when we started the investigation, the FBI took over the investigation. The assistant US attorney that was handling the investigation, Marvin Mosbacker -—
AMY GOODMAN: Juan Angel Guerra, we want to thank you for being with us.