By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Collins began his consulting gig for VitaPro, at $1,000 a day, on January 1, 1996. Three days later, at around noon, Pat Graham was arrested while sitting in a parked car in north Houston, trying to fit $150,000 in cash into his briefcase.
Investigators from the Harris County district attorney's office had been monitoring Pat's every move for a month, ever since a Dallas woman told them he had offered to help her boyfriend escape from a maximum-security TDCJ unit. In a case of the con getting conned, Graham was nailed collecting the down payment on his proposed fee of $750,000.
Pat's explanation was simple: It was all a big misunderstanding. Pat told anyone who would listen that he was actually engaged in an amateur sting operation, trying to expose a scheme cooked up by a couple of TDCJ inmates to free convicted wife-murderer Dana McIntosh. Pat even told people that the executive director of TDCJ, Andy Collins, would testify in his defense.
Graham's relationship with Collins became a matter of immense curiosity to investigators of the jailbreak scheme, as well as the Internal Affairs division of TDCJ. Graham was arrested with a VitaPro business card in his pocket, identifying him as broker for the company. That tipped TDCJ officials to VitaPro's five-year, $33 million contract with TDCJ, which was approved one month after Collins announced that he planned to retire at the end of 1995.
A report on TDCJ's investigation found that Collins may have violated state purchasing laws by pressuring subordinates to award VitaPro a long-term contract without taking bids. According to the report, Collins "personally instructed" TDCJ's purchasing and food service divisions to use VitaPro's exact ingredients and formulations as specifications for a bid request. Collins also reportedly ordered purchasing personnel to call VitaPro's chief executive Yank Barry and "explain exactly how he should submit his bid," the report said.
Prosecutors believe TDCJ's findings support Pat Graham's story, which he began telling FBI agents in June 1996, about six weeks after he and Mike became informants in Louisiana. Pat claimed both Collins and Barry told him that while Collins was still employed by TDCJ, he had been paid $10,000 a month in cash, for many months, by VitaPro.
In fact, Collins set up a company, Certified Technologies Corporation, just before he left TDCJ. Investigators traced two $10,000 payments from VitaPro to the company's account in December 1995. Attorneys for Barry and Collins acknowledge the existence of Collins's company and the two payments. But they maintain that Collins actually left TDCJ on December 1, when he began using vacation time and other leave he had accrued.
More significantly, key parts of Pat's story have changed somewhat over the past few years, when he gave several interviews to FBI agents, as well as more recently in his deposition testimony. For example, when Pat first went to see the FBI, he recalled a specific meeting at the old Ritz-Carlton Hotel in spring 1995, where Barry allegedly told him, "We're paying Andy $10,000 a month." At first, Graham said he, Collins and Barry were at the Ritz-Carlton that day, as well as former TDCJ director Charlie Terrell, who had set up the meeting. A year later Pat told the FBI that he couldn't remember if Collins was there or not. Pat also contradicted his initial story, saying Barry didn't tell him about the payments until much later, when Collins was "tendering his resignation" from TDCJ. At his deposition in March of this year, Pat changed the story of the Ritz-Carlton meeting again, saying nothing incriminating was said at the time.
Pat told the feds that Yank Barry complained about having to pay Collins in cash. At one point, Pat explained that Barry's "preferred method" was cash because there was "nothing traceable there." At another, Pat said Barry often made it known that he wanted Collins to set up a corporation to receive the money so Barry could save on taxes.
That, perhaps, explains the existence of Certified Technologies Corporation, but it begs a couple of questions: If Yank Barry was actually bribing Andy Collins, would he really care that much about the tax implications? And if Barry wanted Collins to set up a company to take bribes, why do it 30 days before Collins would retire from TDCJ?
Defense attorneys say they'll be able to show that Collins, in fact, set up a legitimate company that received two legitimate $10,000 payments from Yank Barry. For jurors to find anything wrong with that, especially in Barry's case, they'll have to believe Pat Graham.
"The whole case really hinges upon his credibility," says Kent Schaffer, an attorney for Barry. "If the jury doesn't believe Pat Graham, the case is over. If the jury believes Pat Graham, we're in trouble."
</1>T<1>he Louisiana prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and FBI agent Geoffrey Santini, are scheduled to be deposed on the Grahams' immunity agreement in Lynn Hughes's court June 5, which also happens to be Pat's next sentencing date on the felony theft charge.
Letten and Santini are also expected to make an appearance at that hearing before Judge William Harmon, who has delayed sentencing Pat more than a dozen times since 1997, at the request of the prosecutors. In a recent written plea to the judge, Letten cited a "legal and moral obligation" to testify about "the full nature, extent, duration and quality" of Pat's cooperation.