- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2008

It’s not unheard of in Willacy County, Texas, for bitter political rivals to threaten one another with criminal prosecution, but it was taken to new levels this week when the district attorney indicted on corruption charges Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and several long-standing political enemies.

And if that wasn’t enough, a judge Wednesday evening scheduled arraignments for Mr. Cheney, Mr. Gonzales and the other state and county officials. Judge Manuel Banales said the defendants could waive their appearance in court Friday and issued summonses instead of warrants so that they would not be arrested and have to post bond.

In another bizarre twist, Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra was a no-show in court Wednesday, prompting Judge Banales to order the Texas Rangers to go find him.

Reached by phone late Wednesday, Mr. Guerra said he had a prior obligation to speak at Nuevo Leon University law school in Mexico and did not know about Wednesday’s hearing. He suggested the court’s holding it so quickly indicated that the defendants are receiving special consideration.

Some already dismissed the case as hopelessly political, the latest in tit-for-tat between Mr. Guerra and his rivals.

Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence told The Washington Times that Mr. Guerra, who lost the Democratic primary in March and will leave office after three terms in January, frequently threatened rivals with prosecution. Sheriff Spence counts himself among those who have been threatened.

“Usually, it’s just people that disagree with the way he’s done things, and then you’ve moved to the top of his hit list,” Sheriff Spence said. “I’m in my 25th year as sheriff, and I haven’t seen anything like this.”

He said Mr. Guerra likes drawing attention to himself and is a polarizing figure in Willacy County. Last year, Mr. Guerra was indicted on corruption charges, which he blasted as politically motivated, pointing out the special prosecutor was a political rival who had run against him for district attorney.

Before he was indicted, Mr. Guerra was charged with interfering with a police search of his office. He spent a night in jail, but didn’t go far after his release. As a protest, Mr. Guerra moved into a camper across the street from the county jail and brought along goats, a rooster and a horse. Ultimately, all charges were dropped.

Mr. Guerra said he was targeted by powerful adversaries when he refused to abandon investigations into the three private prisons in Willacy County, which he said make huge profits for elected officials and their wealthy friends.

He said he was so worried about retribution for the investigation, which he dubbed “Operation Goliath,” that he gave those involved biblical nicknames to disguise their identities.

Mr. Guerra struck back Tuesday obtaining an indictment charging misconduct against the officials involved in indicting him, including judges, the special prosecutor and court clerk.

Mr. Cheney and Mr. Gonzales were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity related to the prisons.

“These are all serious cases,” Mr. Guerra said. “I’m concerned about private prisons and inmates. Inside those walls, the death rate is too high.”

The indictment accused Mr. Cheney of making illegal profits because he owned stock in Vanguard, which had a financial interest in one of the county’s private prisons. Mr. Gonzales was indicted on charges he stopped an investigation into a possible wrongdoing at one of those prisons.

“This is obviously a bogus charge on its face, as any good prosecutor can recognize,” said George J. Terwilliger III, an attorney for Mr. Gonzales.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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