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South Texas D.A. Indicts GEO Group, Cheney, Gonzalez, Etc.

Last month, a Willacy County grand jury indicted The GEO Group, a Florida private prison company, on a murder charge in the death of a prisoner days before his release. The three-count indictment alleged The GEO Group allowed other inmates to beat Gregorio de la Rosa Jr to death with padlocks. The murder took place at the Raymondville prison in 2001.

In 2006, a jury ordered GEO to pay de la Rosa's family a civil judgment of $47.5 million. Earlier this week, District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra also indicted Vice President Richard Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

The Associated Press reports:

Cheney is charged with engaging in an organized criminal activity related to the vice president's investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds financial interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and "at least misdemeanor assaults" on detainees because of his link to the prison companies. ...

The indictment accuses Gonzales of using his position while in office to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the privately-run prisons. ...

Another indictment released Tuesday accuses Lucio of profiting from his public office by accepting honoraria from prison management companies. Guerra announced his intention to investigate Lucio's prison consulting early last year.

According to Alex Friedmann with the Prison Legal News and Private Corrections Institute, Guerra's actions are unique:

"Most District Attorneys wouldn't pursue these kinds of charges,'' Friedmann said today in a phone interview. The case is likely the ``first time a prison company has ever faced criminal charges as a result of a prisoner death in custody,'' he said. ``There might be another one out there, but if so, we're not familiar with it.''

The indictments have garnered much public attention. In court the interaction between Guerra and judge became heated. According to reports, the prosecutor believes Cheney and Gonzalez are receiving special treatment.

The stories surrounding these indictments and the prosecutorial actions taken by Guerra are marked by the high drama of Texas justice. We will continue to follow this story and keep you posted on the implications for private prison management in Texas.

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