- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

HOUSTON — Tales of duplicity, chicanery and conspiracy emerged here last week as the government tried to prove that a former prison chief took bribes to make sure a Canadian firm won a $33.7 million contract to feed Texas inmates a meat substitute called VitaPro.
A majority of the accusations of lying, cheating and double-dealing concerned not the two defendants, but the government's star witness a man often touted as the state's most prolific confidence man/scam artist since the legendary Billie Sol Estes cheated the government out of millions in the early 1960s.
Patrick Graham, serving a 10-year term for swindling a woman under the guise of arranging an escape for a Dallas murderer, was brought here to testify about his relationship with two men federal law-enforcement officials claim illegally manipulated the state prison system into buying and using VitaPro in 1995.
Under the agreement, the Texas prison system was to purchase 36 metric tons of the product each month for five years. When Graham was caught in the abortive escape scam, authorities began investigating and canceled the deal.
Graham, who slightly resembles Jon Lovitz (once a "Saturday Night Live" truth-evasive comedian), testified Friday that James A. "Andy" Collins, one-time Texas prisons director, received at least $20,000, possibly much more, to ease the VitaPro contract through and told how he and his lawyer-daughter set up a dummy corporation to handle what were expected to be huge "commission" payments later.
The deal, said Graham, was discussed in his presence with Yank Barry, president of the Montreal foods company. He said Mr. Barry once told him he had been successful with state prison officials because he "made sure they got a little taste."
He testified that Mr. Barry told him that once the Texas system — then the nation's second largest — used VitaPro, other states would flock to buy the soy-based product.
"Like shooting fish in a barrel," he said Mr. Barry told him.
Graham talked of myriad schemes and business plans, including building private prisons and setting up a corporation with Mr. Collins as the figurehead, to run those prisons.
An animated Graham seemed impressive as he tried to explain to the mostly blue-collar jury some of the more intricate workings of his "development" career, but on cross-examination, the once-suave witness suddenly began to duck and weave.
Often he could not remember. He said he "might" have told FBI agents two or three different stories about several events. Once, when confronted with discrepancies about times, places and other officials he claimed were given "gratuities," he snapped: "I don't see any contradictions there."
Defense lawyers Kent Schaffer and Mike Ramsey, using grand jury testimony, transcripts of depositions and extensive FBI interviews with Graham, got the witness to admit to many lies.
Mr. Ramsey took Graham back to the 1996 scam that resulted in the witness' present incarceration. He had told a woman that because of his personal relationship with Mr. Collins, he could set up an escape for the Dallas man who had killed his wife in an insurance scheme. The woman went to authorities, who were waiting for Graham in a Houston parking lot as the woman handed over $150,000 in cash to Graham.
"That shows you would lie for money, doesn't it?" snapped Mr. Ramsey.
"It certainly did in this case," agreed Graham.
Graham and his brother, Michael, were instrumental in federal law-enforcement officials winning convictions of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, his lawyer son and several close friends last year — revealing to the FBI the inner workings of several nefarious deals, involving payoffs and kickbacks in the millions.
In those investigations, Graham often "wore a wire," tape-recording his associates. He said he offered to in this case, but the FBI did not ask him to tape-record the two defendants.
Graham was given immunity from prosecution for cooperating with federal law-enforcement officials.
If convicted, Mr. Collins and the Canadian businessman, Mr. Barry, face up to 40 years in prison and fines of more than $1 million. Graham returns for more cross-examination this morning.

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