DALLAS - Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are scheduled to be arraigned today in Willacy County on state charges alleging organized criminal activity, but they do not have to appear in person.
The charges stem from a bizarre case involving the death of an inmate in one of three private detention centers in the poor and sparsely populated South Texas county that has been nicknamed "Prisonville."
The prisons were built with $140 million of revenue bonds and operated by private companies. .
Cheney, Gonzales, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., and other public officials were indicted Tuesday by a Willacy County grand jury led by lame-duck district attorney Juan Guerra, who was himself under indictment for alleged misuse of public property and extortion until charges were dismissed last month.
Guerra failed to show up for a hearing in the county seat of Raymondville before presiding Judge Manuel Banales, who sent a Texas Ranger to check on his well-being.
The indictment claims that Cheney profited from investments in the companies while he had influence over how much the federal government would pay to house inmates held under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security.
Gonzales is accused of halting an investigation of abuses at the prisons, which held illegal immigrants. Spokesmen for Cheney and Gonzales called the indictments little more than a publicity stunt.
An attorney for the GEO Group, a private prison operator, filed motions accusing Guerra of "prosecutorial vindictiveness."
Also indicted on charges of official abuse of official capacity and official oppression were district clerk Gilbert Lozano, district judges Janet Leal and Migdalia Lopez, and special prosecutors Mervyn Mosbacker and Gustavo Garza, a longtime political opponent of Guerra's.