By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
This just in: Prison sucks.
So says Patrick Graham, a con artist serving a ten-year sentence for attempting to swindle $150,000 from a woman who happened to be a government informant.
At a hearing before state District Judge William Harmon late last month, Graham pleaded to be released, complaining that his treatment at the Goree prison unit near Huntsville is of a "punitive nature." Perhaps confusing the penitentiary with a Carnival cruise ship, Graham told the judge that his cell is a cramped, lonesome place in which he is forced to remain "all the time, day in and day out, week after week."
Graham's assessment of the accommodations provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice seemed accurate enough. In fact, Graham's description of prison life -- how tough it is to get a good haircut, for example -- evoked sobs and gasps from his wife and daughter, who had positioned themselves second-row center in the courtroom gallery, where Harmon was sure to notice their anguish.
Graham also invoked his role as an undercover operative for the FBI, which led to the conviction last May of former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards on 17 counts of racketeering. Graham implied that his status as just another inmate serving time in TDCJ was unbecoming of a deputized agent of the federal government. As a snitch, moreover, Graham is persona non grata at Goree and in danger of vigilante inmates.
"It is considered a red badge of courage to seek out and find an informant and inflict some kind of retribution," Graham told Harmon.
If the judge was moved, he didn't show it. When Graham's attorney, Dan Cogdell, offered to track down a mysterious Goree inmate known only as "Stan" to corroborate the alleged threats to his client, Harmon brushed him off and sent Graham back to Goree. This ignited more weeping and gnashing of teeth by Graham's daughter, who pointed out that her father's incarceration hasn't included any efforts to rehabilitate him.
"Ma'am," the judge replied, "rehabilitation isn't the only reason people are sent to prison."
That TDCJ isn't teaching Pat Graham how to earn an honest living might be a good reason to keep him locked up. For years the means to an end for Graham typically involved some significant corruption of the truth and the subsequent fleecing of an innocent party (see "The Brothers Graham," by Brian Wallstin, March 28, 1996).
Sometimes it was Pat himself who floated the lie; sometimes it was his business partner and older brother, Michael, an affable name-dropper who over the years has flashed the credibility of others -- Mark White, Jim Mattox, Fred Hofheinz and Edwin Edwards, to name a few -- like a badge of honor.
In reality, it was more like a license to steal. At last count, the Graham brothers owed tens of millions of dollars in defaulted loans, fines and court-ordered restitution to former associates and investors, dating back to the 1970s. They have served time -- Pat, three months; Michael, nine -- for tax evasion, and they still owe the IRS almost $4 million between them.
Apparently Pat was acting independently of his brother when he used his relationship with Andy Collins, then-director of TDCJ, to lend weight to a phony scheme to break a wife-murderer out of prison. The ruse backfired when the convict's girlfriend helped set up a sting that culminated in Pat's arrest in January 1996. Pat eventually copped to felony theft, by which time he and Mike had cut a deal with federal prosecutors to deliver evidence that Edwin Edwards was being bribed by former Houston mayor Fred Hofheinz.
Indicted by a grand jury in New Orleans in November 1999, Hofheinz has steadfastly maintained that he was the victim of a scam by the Graham brothers, who were working as consultants for the former mayor on a proposed juvenile detention facility in Jena, Louisiana. And in fact, the federal prosecutors seemed to have little evidence -- other than the Grahams' testimony, that is -- that Hofheinz was guilty of paying off Edwards in exchange for approval of the project (see "Let's Make a Deal," by Brian Wallstin, June 1).
The feds admitted as much last month, when they dropped the bribery charges against Hofheinz. He agreed to plead guilty to the lesser crime of failing to report an extortion attempt by Cecil Brown, a Louisiana lobbyist with close ties to Edwards. It seems that Hofheinz had signed a contract, brought to him by the Grahams, that would have paid Brown $1.3 million (with a portion allegedly going to Edwards) if the project went forward.
Hofheinz says the government's deal, which comes with a $5,100 fine and a year's probation, was "a no-brainer." For one thing, Hofheinz no longer has to take his chances in a Louisiana courtroom, where he would have been tried alongside Brown, who also was convicted on racketeering charges last May. If he had been found guilty of attempted bribery, Hofheinz almost certainly would have faced jail time under federal sentencing guidelines.
"Edwards would be a ghost in the courtroom over there, and I would be sitting in the room with an already convicted felon," Hofheinz says. "There is just no telling what accident might happen in that circumstance. And as innocent as I am, just being there somehow casts a pall of guilt."