Sunset News: Lawyers attack prosecutor who had Cheney indicted

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Lawyers attack prosecutor who had Cheney indicted

Lawyers attack prosecutor who had Cheney indicted
CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN - 11/21/2008 11:42:39 AM

Lawyers seeking to halt the indictments brought against Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others are accusing the prosecutor of trying to end his tenure with a bang and even scores with political enemies.

Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra noted that the decision to return the eight high-profile indictments earlier this week was a grand jury's. He said backlash against him is in response to his persistent investigation of ties between politicians and the private companies that run federal detention centers.
Half of the indictments returned Monday are linked to privately run federal detention centers in the sparsely populated southern Texas county. The other half target judges and special prosecutors who played a role in an earlier investigation of Guerra.
Presiding Judge Manuel Banales was scheduled to hear arguments Friday on motions to dismiss or quash the indictments. Guerra, who missed a Wednesday court appearance, promised he would be there this time.
The vice president is the highest public official Guerra has pursued, but he made a nearly 20-year-career of passing over routine crimes in favor of public corruption before being defeated in the March Democratic primary election.
It was Guerra's interest in the contracts to build and run a federal detention center that led to some of his biggest successes _ three guilty pleas on bribery charges from former county commissioners in 2005. But he also believes it was the motivation for his own legal battles.
Guerra was arrested last year on theft charges that were later dropped. He responded by camping outside the courthouse with farm animals in protest. He continued working for more than a year while under indictment on charges of extorting money from a bail bond company and using his office for personal business until Banales dismissed the indictment last month.
Guerra ran his investigation into alleged prisoner abuse with a siege mentality. He worked it from his home, dubbed it "Operation Goliath" and kept it secret from his staff, he said. He gave all the witnesses biblical pseudonyms _ his was "David" _ and when necessary gave false reasons for witnesses' appearances so as not to raise suspicion in a courthouse he believed to be filled with political enemies. A clerk and a judge who share the building were among those indicted Monday.
The grand jury indicted Cheney, Gonzales, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and The GEO Group Corp. on charges related to alleged abuse in a federal detention center and in Lucio's case, of illegally profiting from prison consulting fees.
The GEO Group Corp. was indicted on a murder charge for the death of an inmate at a federal prison.
"The indictment is the product of prosecutorial vindictiveness and is void on its face," defense attorney Tony Canales, who represents the private prison operator, wrote in a motion.
Another indictment alleges that Cheney's personal investment in the Vanguard Group, which invests in private prison companies, gives him culpability in alleged prisoner abuse.
Other indictments charge two district judges, two special prosecutors and the Willacy County district clerk with abusing their powers in investigating Guerra's office.
Banales set Friday's hearing to allow defense attorneys to argue against the indictments. Guerra said he missed Wednesday's initial hearing because the judge did not give the involved parties enough notice that they were to appear.
The defendants do not need to appear in person Friday.

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