Potter County Sheriff Clearly Didn't Learn a Thing from Dallas County

Categories: News

The press release from the Texas Attorney General's Office that just arrived in my in-box had a familiar ring to it. (It's after the jump.) A Texas sheriff is accused of accepting bribes from Mid-America Services Inc. in exchange for awarding the Dallas company food and commissary contracts at the county jail.

Hmm ... lesse. Wasn't there a local guy ... Jim something or other ... who had similar accusations floating around him? Oh, wait. Never mind. Turns out the guy who was convicted is in Potter County, up in Amarillo. Figures. I lived in Amarillo a long while ago, and the chief thing I remember, besides the wind and smell of cow shit, is that it's the last place on earth, outside China, that you would ever want to face a criminal trial. Them Panhandle folks don't screw around when it comes to law and order. --Patrick Williams

Former Potter County Sheriff Found Guilty of Felony

Potter County jury renders guilty verdict; sheriff removed from office

AMARILLO – A Potter County jury late Thursday night rendered a guilty verdict against former Sheriff Michael Shumate, 59, on a charge of engaging in organized criminal activity involving bribery. The trial judge, Quay Parker, immediately removed him from office, as required by law for officeholders convicted of a felony, revoked Shumate’s bond and ordered him into custody. The judge appointed Roger Haney as interim Potter County sheriff. The punishment phase of the trial will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Amarillo-based Federal Bureau of Investigation agents investigated the case and the Office of the Attorney General is handling the prosecution with the consent of the Potter County District Attorney’s Office.

According to the evidence, Shumate accepted bribes from a company in exchange for awarding food service and commissary contracts at the Potter County jail. Felony charges related to the case are still pending against Robert W. Austin, Jr., 53, and his company. Austin is president of Mid-America Services Inc., the company that received the contracts. An investigation revealed that Austin and his Dallas-based company secured commissary contracts by providing illegal inducements to Shumate, including cash and checks, out-of-state trips, hotel stays, entertainment, laptop computers, meals, clothing and other items of value.

Shumate became Potter County sheriff in January 2001. Almost immediately, he sought to privatize the county jail’s food and commissary services. Commissaries provide goods and other necessities to county jail inmates.

Austin and his predecessor, Elbert “Jack” Madera, began planning a comprehensive bid for the jail’s food services contract seven months before Potter County requested competitive bids in November 2002. According to the evidence, soon after the Commissioners Court awarded the contract to a competing company in January 2003, Shumate began receiving gifts and meals from officials with Mid-America. Shumate subsequently intervened, notified the winning bidder that its services were no longer needed, and worked to ensure Mid-America was assigned the contract.

Evidence showed that Shumate also began the process of switching the jail’s commissary contract – which, by law, the sheriff can control – to Mid-America after he began receiving items of value from the company.

In July 2003, Shumate organized a committee to review proposals from Mid-America and another vendor for the jail’s commissary contract. The committee unanimously agreed that the competing bidder offered superior services at a better price for county taxpayers. State law allows the sheriff to unilaterally award commissary contracts, despite disagreement from the commissioners court. Shumate gave the contract to Mid-America.

From the contract’s inception, Mid-America’s software package proved troublesome and riddled with problems that persisted for almost three years. During that period, evidence shows that Madera, who was Mid-America’s founder, and Austin purchased the sheriff multiple meals and paid for entertainment expenses when he traveled. Shumate’s ex-wife testified she saw Madera give Shumate cash on three occasions, which was corroborated by evidence that Madera repeatedly withdrew thousands of dollars in cash.

In spite of the software troubles, Shumate wrote a letter of recommendation for the company stating: “There has not been one occasion where the service provided by Mid-America was less than perfect.”

The jury found Shumate not guilty on two related charges of accepting unlawful campaign contributions from a corporation.

Assistant Attorneys General David Glickler and Harry White of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity and White Collar Criminal Prosecution Section presented witnesses and evidence for two weeks before the jury returned the guilty verdict.

Although Shumate has been removed from office by law, the punishment phase of his trial will continue. Because three parties – Shumate, Austin and Mid-America – are alleged to have organized a scheme committing several bribery offenses, each defendant is charged with a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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