DALLAS — A former top official for the $3 billion bond-funded Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has been indicted on felony charges that he illegally routed an $11 million grant to a firm headed by one of Gov. Rick Perry's campaign contributors.
Jerry Cobbs, who served as the institute's chief commercialization officer for three years, was named in the indictment handed down by the Travis County Grand Jury in Austin.
The case was investigated by the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney's office, whose state funding was cut off by Perry in a line-item budget veto in June.
Greg Cox, head of the PIU, said the investigation of CPRIT is closed and that neither the firm that received the grant nor any public officials face charges.
"We reviewed all of that and did not any evidence of criminal conduct," Cox said.
Cobbs failed to disclose that the grant to Peloton Therapeutics had not gone through the required review process, according to Cox. Peloton was unaware that the grant was improper, according to investigators. Under the law, Cobbs could face a sentence of 5 to 99 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine if convicted. Cobbs was released on an $85,000 bond, according to the PIU.
Cobbs could not be reached for comment Friday.
Perry's refusal to fund the PIU did delay the investigation, Cox said. Perry said he cut off the funding because Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign after a drunken driving arrest. Had Lehmberg, a Democrat, resigned, Perry would have been able to appoint the first Republican ever to hold the DA's post.
A special prosecutor is investigating Perry's efforts to force Lehmberg to resign as a possible violation of state law.
Perry was instrumental in pushing through legislation for the CPRIT bond program in 2011 and winning voter approval the same year.
Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott, whose representative sat on the CPRIT board, was also asked to investigate the alleged funding irregularities. Abbott, a Republican, is running in the election to replace Perry, who is stepping down as governor next year. Perry has not said whether he will run for president in 2016 but has made a number of recent trips to states that will host Republican primaries.
In testimony before a legislative committee earlier this year, Cox said that the PIU would continue to investigate the CPRIT scandal and any role Perry might have played in it, even with the loss of state funding. The Travis County DA's office is now funding the unit.
The PIU, once headed by former District Attorney Ronnie Earle, has brought indictments in the past against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Sugar Land, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Hutchison was cleared of charges that she misused her office for a political campaign. Delay's conviction for money laundering was overturned on appeal.