HOUSTON (AP) _ A former Texas prisons director and a Canadian businessman were acquitted in a two-hour trial of 10-year-old federal bribery charges relating to VitaPro, a soy-based meat substitute considered for state inmate meals.
Tuesday's decision was the second acquittal granted to former Texas prisons director James "Andy" Collins, 57, and Canadian businessman Yank Barry, 60, by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes.
The two were first indicted in 1998 on bribery, money-laundering and conspiracy charges by a federal grand jury.
After a tumultuous trial that featured Patrick Graham _ a government informant who was a key witness in the prosecution of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and former Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz on corruption charges, a Houston federal jury convicted Collins and Barry in 2001 on the charges.
The jury found that at the time that Collins was executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Barry paid two $10,000 bribes to Collins for pushing a no-bid contract worth millions with VitaPro.
By 2004, three years after the guilty verdicts, Collins and Barry had not been sentenced.
Defense lawyers said they were concerned about their ability to appeal the case because there wasn't a reliable record of the trial.
The 1,357-page trial transcript was found to have so many gaps and errors that Hughes ordered them reconstructed, but the effort was not successful and the court reporter ended up serving 10 days in jail for contempt of court after failing to meet a deadline on other transcripts.
By 2005, Hughes overturned the convictions and granted a new trial, ruling that Graham lied and the flawed trial transcript was unreliable. The government appealed. Last August, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Hughes' decision.
Tuesday's trial was a bench trial, meaning there was no jury and Hughes alone decided guilt or innocence.
"The government did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt," Hughes said. "You guys are free. Whatever restraints remained on you go away."
After the decision, prosecutor Gary Cobe said: "We advocated that they were guilty and the judge advocated that they were not guilty."
Mike Ramsey and Kent Schaffer, who represented Barry, said that the acquittal was justice for their client.
Terry Hart, who represented Collins, said: "We are just very pleased with the judge's decision."
Information from: Houston Chronicle, www.chron.com
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, www.americanstatesman.com
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.