Pubdate: Wed, 30 Jun 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


In what could be the mother of all ironies stemming from the Tulia
drug bust, one of the few federal narcotics grants coming to the
Panhandle next year could be used to prosecute the man some say cost
the area its drug task force and hundreds of thousands in federal dollars.

Gov. Rick Perry's Criminal Justice Division is considering is a
$57,000 grant to Swisher County to pay for the prosecution of Tom
Coleman, the undercover agent who conducted the Tulia drug sting.

The federal grants are known as Byrne Grants.

"That is unbelievable," said Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson
when told of the purpose for the grant. "I guess I can't give you my
real reaction because it would be X-rated.

"What could be more ridiculous than to use Byrne Grants to prosecute
the guy who cost everyone in the Panhandle their Byrne Grants?" he

Robert Black, spokesman for Perry, confirmed that the CJD is
considering an emergency grant application from Swisher County to pay
for special prosecutors in Coleman's trial.

When asked whether the grant is likely to be approved, Black said he
would not argue with that conclusion.

Coleman is facing perjury charges connected with statements he made
during hearings on the 1999 Tulia drug sting. Coleman conducted an
18-month undercover investigation in Tulia that resulted in charges
against 46 people, 39 of them black.

At an evidentiary hearing last year, Coleman gave testimony that
appeared to conflict with earlier statements, leading to three charges
of aggravated perjury. Coleman's testimony played a key role in the
process that led to Perry pardoning nearly all of the defendants.

The possible approval of the Swisher County grant outraged local law
enforcement officials because the Tulia controversy led directly to
the Panhandle losing its main Byrne Grant.

As part of a $6 million settlement of a federal lawsuit, the city of
Amarillo agreed to disband the task force that supervised the sting
and return about $800,000 in federal money.

The CJD turned down an emergency grant application, filed about the
same time the Swisher County grant was filed, to replace some funds.

Black said he could not say whether the Swisher County grant would be
the only Byrne Grant coming to the Panhandle next year.

The CJD approved numerous grants for the area, and some of those could
be funded with Byrne money, he said.

Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter said he is not blind to the irony
of using Byrne Grants to fund Coleman's prosecution, but he had little
choice given the cost.

"We're talking about 2 cents on my tax roll," Keeter said of the
$57,000 cost of prosecution. "We get about $27,000 per penny of tax.
Whenever you have that impact on the budget, that would be pretty
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