View Full Version : sentencing nears in VitaPro case - Former TDCJ Dir could get 70 years!

09-10-2002, 01:52 AM
May 22, 2002
After six delays, sentencing nears in VitaPro case

Although former Texas prison director James A. "Andy" Collins and Canadian businessman Yank Barry were convicted of bribery, money laundering and other charges last summer both have yet to be sentenced for their crimes.

Defense lawyers had been unable to acquire a trial transcript, forcing the six previous sentencing hearings to be reset. Both were found guilty Aug. 20.

With that issue seemingly resolved, both men are set to be sentenced June 14 when each could get up to 70 years in federal prison and fined up to $2 million.

Although there is no requisite time period in which a convicted felon must be sentenced, prosecutor Gary Cobe concedes that it is unusual for a case to be tied up because of transcript difficulties.

Without a transcript, the defense attorneys had argued they were unable to file post-verdict motions and thus unable to proceed. Still, Cobe said he anticipates no further delays.

During the trial, the prosecution alleged that Barry paid Collins at least $20,000 in kickbacks to secure a five-year contract with the state worth $33 million for his soy-based meat substitute, VitaPro.

The defense countered that the payments were advances for consulting work Collins planned to do for VitaPro after retiring from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Prosecutors relied on the testimony of convicted felon and informant Patrick Graham, also a star witness in the racketeering conviction of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.

As though the case did not already merit a Law and Order TV storyline, a courtroom visit during the trial by former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali delivered behind-the-scenes drama that led to a closed hearing on juror misconduct two months after the trial.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes concluded no misconduct occurred, but the allegation marks one of the twists in the high-profile corruption case.

The appearance by Ali, a longtime friend of Barry's, prompted an unknown woman to contact the champ's office several days after the jury reached its guilty verdict.

The woman, who apparently made the call from a Beaumont pay phone, spoke to Ali's press secretary and suggested the boxing great not associate with such a "scum bucket."

According to court documents, the woman also said a friend had served as a juror who provided the other jurists with newspaper articles detailing Barry's Canadian criminal history, which includes extortion and conspiracy.

"My friend wanted each of the jurists to know what kind of man they were dealing with," the woman said to Ali's press secretary.

The woman promised that she would send Ali the same information that the jurors were purportedly given, according to court records.

Ali's spokeswoman then contacted Barry's attorney, Mike Ramsey, about the call. Ramsey immediately dispatched his private investigator to uncover all he could about the caller.

The documents sent to Ali displayed a Beaumont fax number which Ramsey's investigator tracked to an Office Depot there. A manager recalled the transaction, done in cash, and described the woman as an African-American in her early to mid- 60s.

Other than the sketchy description, the woman's identity remains a mystery.

Although the investigation stalled, Ramsey moved for a hearing to delve into potential juror misconduct.

In his motion, Ramsey noted that the allegation, coupled with the speed in which the jury reached its verdict, raised eyebrows.

"In a multicount, two-defendant, nine-day trial, a verdict reached in less than an hour defies both experience and logic. On the other hand, it might comport with the action of a jury already tainted by extraneous, incendiary material," Ramsey stated in his motion.

Hughes, who presided over the trial and will sentence both Barry and Collins, granted the motion and conducted an Oct. 23 hearing in his chambers to talk to jurors about the allegations.

All of the jurors denied that they had received newspaper articles or other information about Barry, Ramsey said. Hughes concluded that nothing improper had occurred.

Cobe, the prosecutor in the case, said this week that "obviously there was no juror misconduct."

Ramsey said the entire incident was "one of the strangest I've seen."

"I think Hughes did all he could. I'm still suspicious but suspicion won't get you anywhere in this business," Ramsey said.

"There just didn't turn out to be any meat on the bone."