Monday, October 01, 2007

Since when has "that's not really evidence." ever stopped this loser? watt he is really saying is "there is nothing in it for me".......right~ it's...

Jails rethink commissary contracts

By Denise Malan (Contact)
Monday, October 1, 2007

CORPUS CHRISTI — Two local sheriffs are distancing themselves from their predecessors' decisions to award jail commissary contracts to a company involved in a criminal investigation in Bexar County.

Kleberg County Sheriff Ed Mata said last week officials are researching ways to end that county's five-year agreement with the company, Premier Management Enterprises. Nueces County Sheriff Jim Kaelin gave Premier a 30-day termination notice on Jan. 24, after taking office.

Former Bexar County Sheriff Ralph Lopez resigned and pleaded no contest to accepting a trip to Costa Rica from the principals of Premier. The Lafayette, La., based company runs the county jail commissary.

Neither Kaelin nor Mata has documentation corroborating what their staffs have told them -- that their predecessors, Larry Olivarez of Nueces County and Tony Gonzalez of Kleberg County, went on that August 2005 trip. Neither Gonzalez nor Olivarez has responded to requests for comment.

There is no known investigation in Nueces or Kleberg counties.

"At this point no case has been submitted to me," Kleberg County District Attorney John Hubert said. "If something is submitted to me, I take every case on its own merits. I don't have any information other than what I've read in the papers and -- no offense to anybody -- that's not really evidence."

Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez was out of the office late last week, and the Bexar County District Attorney's Office did not respond. The FBI would not comment.

Olivarez signed a contract with Premier five months after the Costa Rica trip involving the former Bexar County sheriff. Gonzalez signed a contract in September 2004.

Premier's principals, Patrick and Michael LeBlanc, also own LCS Correctional Services, which is building a private prison to house federal inmates near Robstown. A receptionist at Premier referred all questions to the company's chief executive officer, Chris Burch, who did not respond.

An attorney for the company, Tonya Webber of Corpus Christi, said her clients have not been commenting because of the open investigation in Bexar County. She said she would check with her clients for comment on the local contracts but did not respond after that.

Kaelin and Mata both cited performance issues with Premier as reasons for terminating the contract. Mata said the Bexar investigation also played a part.

"What I'm trying to do is just protect this county," Mata said. "I'm not trying to pass any judgment if something was done wrong."

Kaelin said his decision was based solely on Premier's performance. He met with Premier officials about complaints before ending the agreement, according to correspondence the Caller-Times obtained under the Texas Public Information Act. Kaelin and Premier also tangled over payments.

A new contract, with Keefe Supply, also is potentially more lucrative for the county. The Premier contract gave the county $130,000 or 31 percent of net sales, whichever was greater. The new contract gives a minimum of 39 percent with the possibility of 41 percent after the first year.

Texas law gives sheriffs sole discretion over commissary contracts. Commissaries supply snacks, such as chips, candy bars and soda, as well as certain toiletries, for inmates.

Friends and family put money in an inmate's account to spend on commissary items. A county's proceeds must be used for commissary staff, social needs of inmates (such as education or counseling), libraries, writing materials, clothing, hygiene items or other programs that contribute to inmates' well-being, according to state law. Kaelin said he uses commissary profits to buy newspaper subscriptions, televisions and uniforms.

Kaelin said inmates frequently complained about Premier's service. Under that system, inmates would order items to be packed into bags, shipped from San Antonio and handed out the next day. Kaelin said his office received numerous complaints about items being damaged or wrong.

Keefe stores items at the Nueces County Jail McKenzie Annex and brings items around on a cart twice a week so inmates can choose and receive items immediately, Kaelin said.

Premier's accounting system also allowed inmates to buy on credit, and as a result some inmates would leave custody owing money to Nueces County, Kaelin said. Keefe's system charges inmates' accounts directly by scanning a bracelet inmates wear. An inmate can't buy items unless there is enough money in the account.

Contact Denise Malan at 886-4334 or

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