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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Monday, February 09, 2004

County reaches deal with BOP on RCDC III

Staff Writer

After nearly a year of trying, Reeves County has reached an agreement with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to house prisoners at in the 960-bed Reeves County Detention Center III unit, County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo announced today. Reeves County Commissioners met this morning and were scheduled to discuss the new contract, but tabled any action on the agreement between Reeves County and the Bureau of Prisons.

"I'd like to table taking any action on this, because we have not received the actual contract yet," said Galindo about the contract, which will first bring a higher man-day rate payment to the county and eventually, prisoners for the new facility.

Reeves County was already housing over 2,000 BOP inmates in RCDC I and II when the $40 million RCDC III unit was completed last March. But the county was unable to get the BOP to provide inmates to fill the facility. Payments for housing the inmates were to have funded the bond payments for construction of RCDC III, for which the county made its first payment last fall. To deal with the crisis, the county contracted with GEO Group in November to manage the prison and help the county seek inmates for RCDC III. GEO would also help Reeves County make bond payments on the new prison for a limited time, under terms of the contract.

"I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with the Federal Bureau of Prisons that will lead to the resolution of our crisis," said Galindo. "We have agreed to a three-year agreement which would become effective Feb. 1, and extend through Jan. 31, 2007. We expect to sign the new agreement with the Bureau of Prisons shortly."

"Through the efforts of our Congressman Henry Bonilla and Senator John Cornyn, this agreement represents the best terms we have ever negotiated for Reeves County," said Galindo. "I want to thank them for all of their support and guidance in this very difficult situation. They deserve tremendous praise and our appreciation for their unwavering support of Reeves County."

"Under the terms of the agreement, Reeves County will be allowed over $2.2 million in profit and the recovery of the county's indirect expenses," said Galindo. "Additionally, the per diem rate will be increased from $47.33 per inmate per day to a fixed-unit price of $48.25 for the first year of the new agreement, $49.70 for the second year and $50.69 for the third year. Furthermore, the Bureau of Prisons has agreed to increase the capacity of the Reeves County Detention Center Phase I and II from 2,065 to 2,300 inmates," he said.

"These are very positive developments for our community," said Galindo. "But more importantly, in addition to this agreement with the Bureau of Prisons, we have a proposal for the use of RCDC Phase III on the table at this time and I will be presenting it to the commissioner's court in the very near future." "I would like to thank the GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (WCC), for all of their hard work on this project and their steadfast commitment to Reeves County," said Galindo. "I also want to thank Commissioner Felipe Arredondo for traveling to Washington with me last week, to make sure the Bureau of Prisons knew how important this agreement was to our community. I would also like to give a special thanks to all the staff at the Reeves County Detention Center for never wavering in their commitment to provide the best correctional services we can offer during these hard and difficult times."

"Also, I want to thank our attorneys in Washington and locally, Joe Summerill and Bill Weinacht, the Sheriff's RCDC Monitor, for their counsel and guidance provided throughout these negotiations," said Galindo.

Weinacht described the deal in baseball terms. "This deal is a solid stand up triple, only one base short of a home run and we are still at bat," he said. Commissioners will meet again at 4 p.m., Tuesday, to discuss and take action on this agreement.

Trio backing Yerena suffer losses in recall

From Staff and Wire Reports

Complaints about locked doors at City Hall or employee leave policies may seem like minor problems for former Town of Pecos City Manager Carlos Yerena now, in his new job as City Manager for Kingsville.

Yerena left his job as city manager in Pecos in mid-November to take a similar position with the city of Kingsville, located in southeast Texas. But on Saturday the Mayor and the two city commissioners (councilmen) who hired Yerena in late October were recalled by voters in a special election.

Yerena and Assistant City Manager Corando Garza said that 2,016 people voted to recall Mayor Phil Esquivel Jr., with 1,608 people voting against his recall. The vote to recall Mayor Pro Tem Horacio "Hoss" Castillo was 2,154 for and 1,453 against. Recall of City Commissioner Arturo Pecos was supported by 2,108 voters, with 1,495 voting against the move.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported in October that city commission approved a two-year contract for Yerena and an annual salary of $72,000, a $6,000 annual car allowance and $1,500 for moving expenses.

Yerena's salary was lower than the amount he was being paid in Pecos at the time of his resignation. But Yerena, who came from overseeing the El Paso Empowerment zone in Horizon City in 1990, said he wanted to be closer to his family in southeast Texas.

Yerena's hiring in Kingsville came after talk of a recall vote already had begun, when the mayor and the commissioners voted to fire city manager Hector Hinojosa and Kingsville Police Chief Sam Granato.

"We have been through a tumultuous time for the last eight months," Mayor Phil Esquivel told the Caller-Times when Yerena was hired over two local finalists. "We have removed some obstacles in ways that kept us from moving forward and he can be a catalyst to bringing everyone on the same page."

Citizens for the Betterment of Kingsville had urged the recall because its members felt commissioners were not attending to city business and were showing disrespect for the city's residents.

Daniel Suson, president of the citizens' group, said high turnout meant a victory for the recall movement.

"They were tired of the city's name getting pulled through the dirt," Suson told the Caller-Times in Monday's online edition. "The city commissioners wanted to know from voters how they were doing. Tonight, they gave them an answer." Yerena took over as Pecos city manager in December of 2000. Police Chief Clay McKinney served as interim city manager in November before the city council hired Joseph Torres, who began his first day on the job as city manager this morning.

The recall election was one of two held by Texas cities on Saturday. In the Fort Worth area, five of seven Haltom City councilmen were voted out of office in Saturday's recall election. Residents and the three remaining elected officials said it's now time to start healing political wounds. All the ousted council members had voted to fire City Manager Richard Torres in October.. The Haltom City attorney was expected at Monday night's council meeting to issue a legal opinion on whether the five recalled councilmen will be required to step down immediately.

"It's been sort of a mini-war here in Haltom City," resident Bill Lanford, who serves as chairman of the city's Planning and Zoning Commission and had considered running for City Council in May, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Monday's editions. "There's not much bloodshed yet, but a lot of hurt feelings. We really need to move beyond that."

Voters overwhelmingly demanded the removal of council members David Averitt, Trae Fowler, Tracy Henderson, Bob Hurley and John Williams.

All the recalled councilmen except Henderson faced re-election May 15. They can run again, except for Williams, who is barred from re-election this year because of term limits. About 68 percent of voters supported recall in an election that drew 12 percent of registered voters.

Upchurch says politics behind 1992 indictment

Staff Writer

As Monahans lawyer Hal Upchurch runs for the 143rd district attorney's office, questions have been raised over the circumstances surrounding the conviction of Upchurch in connection with his job as district attorney in the 143rd district over a decade ago.

Upchurch is seeking to return to the office he vacated in the wake of the State of Texas' Attorney General's investigation 12 years ago. He will face two-term incumbent Randy Reynolds on March 9, in the Democratic primary election for 143rd District Attorney.

Upchurch was elected to the DA's office in 1989, but resigned from office after three years of service, amid the allegations of the misuse of funds surrounding reverse drug stings, which occurred outside the boundaries of the 143rd judicial district.

In an interview with the Monahans News, Upchurch said, "I do not attempt to hide from my past, nor will I run from it. Others alone must judge whether my past is something that will cause them to condemn me. My only request is that I be condemned or criticized based upon the facts and not upon the many unfounded rumors that still circulate to this day."

Stemming from questions brought forth over the handling of confiscated drug money, then-Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox launched an investigation into the possible payment of $68,000 to an informant "off the top" of the confiscated money from a "reverse sting" operation, before the money was forfeited to the state government for distribution/accounting.

Reverse stings, still legal to this day, allow law enforcement officials to pose as drug dealers using confiscated contraband from previous drug busts. The officers then arrest the buyers for the illegal transaction, and keep the money intended for the buy to further fund drug interdiction activities. The procedure came into common practice during the "War on Drugs" era of the 80's, but has since come under question, specifically in Canada's courts, citing entrapment.

According to the January 16, 1992 Pecos Enterprise, the fifth grand jury called to hear the case against Upchurch indicted him on two counts of misappropriation of fiduciary property and one count of tampering with government records. The first four grand juries called to hear the case no billed (refused to bring charges) against the former DA. The empanelment of the fifth grand jury was quite unusual, Upchurch told the Monahans News. "Ordinarily, once a grand jury has refused to return an indictment, the investigation ceases and the state closes the file."

One of Upchurch's investigators was also indicted for his actions in the incident. Ronnie Tucker made the $68,000 hand-off to the informant, but stuck $34,000 of the money into his boot, during the transaction at Dallas' Love Field, according to the 1992 indictment.

Tucker was charged with theft by a public servant, but took a plea bargain agreement in return for a $4,000 fine and two years unsupervised probation. Upchurch testified at Tucker's trial that he "did not authorize the immediate informant payment and didn't know Tucker had received part of it." As a result of his cooperation with the Tucker investigation, Upchurch was allowed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges, official misconduct and official oppression. Upon sentencing, Upchurch received two years deferred adjudicated probation for each charge in addition to a $500 fine. The prosecutor in the case also stated that he would testify in Upchurch's upcoming federal trial over tax evasion.

However, in a surprise move, sitting U.S. District Court Judge Lucius D. Bunton found Upchurch guilty of the tax charge, and sentenced him to six months in a federal prison.

Upchurch alleged in his interview with the News that Mattox had targeted him after he moved a planned drug sting involving two of his undercover agents out of McLennan County (Waco). The action came after he learned Mattox was going to personally be in Waco to lead a massing drug bust.

"I immediately knew that this would mean large media coverage and television footage of the Attorney General kicking down the door and arresting the drug ring, and I knew that the only reason for his involvement was to obtain publicity for his political campaign," he said. Mattox unsuccessfully tried for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1990, losing in the primary election to Ann Richards.

"I did not want to risk the very high probability that such media coverage would expose the identity of my undercover investigators," Upchurch said, adding that Mattox then retaliated against him for relocating the drug bust. He said a drug dealer prosecuted by the district attorney, who was at the time serving a 50-year sentence, made a claim that one of his investigators had not accounted for $40,000 in drug funds seized at the time of the dealer's arrest. The allegation led to an investigation, conducted by prosecutors out of the AG's office.

"I pledged my full cooperation with this investigation and voluntarily made all my records available," Upchurch told the News. But he added that auditors from Mattox's office continued with the investigation, along with Texas Rangers, which eventually led to the AG's office obtaining the indictment against Upchurch on their fifth attempt before the Ward County Grand Jury.


High Sunday 70. Low this morning 32. Forecast for tonight: Mostly cloudy. Lows near 30. East winds 5 to 15 mph. Tuesday: Mostly cloudy. Highs 45 to 50. Northeast winds 10 to 15 mph. Tuesday night: Cloudy with a 20 percent chance of rain. Lows in the mid 30s. East winds near 10 mph in the evening becoming light and variable. Wednesday: Mostly cloudy with a chance of rain then partly cloudy with a slight chance of rain in the afternoon. Highs in the mid 50s. Light and variable winds becoming north near 10 mph in the afternoon. Chance of rain 20 percent. Wednesday night: Mostly cloudy. Lows 25 to 30. Thursday: Mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of rain. Highs in the mid 40s. Thursday night: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 20s.

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