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Former Texas Prison Chief Indicted

The former head of the Texas prison system has been indicted on six counts of federal bribery, conspiracy, fraud and money-laundering charges stemming from his role in a shady multi-million dollar contract to purchase a soy-based meat substitute to feed Texas prisoners. [The VitaPro scandal is discussed in detail in the July, 1995 and May and Aug. 1996 issues of PLN ]

James A. "Andy" Collins was accused in the indictment of taking $20,000 in "consulting fees" from VitaPro Foods, Inc. of Quebec, the company that manufactures the powdery soy supplement and secured the $33.7 million dollar contract to sell it to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

Also named in the indictment is Yank Barry, VitaPro's chief executive officer, who is charged with conspiring to hide illegal payoffs to Collins by channeling them through a dummy company set up by Collins for that purpose.

Collins has pleaded not guilty. Barry, 49, remains in Canada and faces possible extradition. The indictment, handed down by the grand jury on November 15, 1998, was kept sealed until late March in the hopes that Barry might be apprehended in the U.S.

If convicted, both men could face up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine on the conspiracy count; 10 years in prison and a $350,000 fine on the bribery count; 20 years and a $5 million fine on the money-laundering charges; and five years and a $250,000 fine for false representation of a social security number (the two men used a phony Social Security number to get Barry a TDCJ employee identification card, which gave Barry unlimited access to TDCJ prisons, offices, and departments).

Collins, who told a federal judge at arraignment that he is currently unemployed, has filed bankruptcy for a second time in one year. Austin bankruptcy attorney, Harvey Caughey, said that Collins owes $27,949 in federal income taxes. The first bankruptcy case, filed last July, was closed in November after Collins arranged to pay creditors with claims of more than $366,703.

Austin attorney William A. White, who represents Collins in the federal criminal case, says the timing of the indictment is curious in light of the fact that a state lawsuit to cancel the TDCJ's contracts with VitaPro is still pending before an appeals court. White said the indictments are based on two $10,000 consulting fees that Collins received from VitaPro.

"Are these consulting fees some sort of quid pro quo for the contract?" White said. "Of course, our response is `No."'

He added, "You're talking about a guy who served as the executive honcho of a multibillion dollar organization, one that was building $100 million prisons practically every day. If this guy were a crook, he could have stolen a fortune on construction contracts, couldn't he? And after 2 1/2 years, all this federal grand jury comes up with is these little piss-ant contracts for $20,000."

Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News

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