[Watchdogs] No verdict yet in Pedernales trial [Patrick George, AAS]
milton.hawkins at gmail.com
Fri Dec 10 07:54:05 CST 2010
No verdict yet in Pedernales trial Jury to continue deliberations on
charges against former general manager.
By Patrick George<http://www.statesman.com/news/local/no-verdict-yet-in-pedernales-trial-1110694.html?service=popup&authorContact=1110694&authorContactField=0>
Updated: 9:41 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
Published: 9:09 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
The ninth day of Bennie Fuelberg's trial ended without a verdict Thursday as
the jury contemplated charges of felony theft, money laundering and
misapplication of fiduciary property against the former Pedernales Electric
Cooperative general manager.
The jury of nine women and three men began deliberating shortly after noon.
District Judge Dan Mills sent them home at 5:30 p.m.; they are scheduled to
return this morning.
Prosecutors from the Texas attorney general's office are trying to prove
that Fuelberg broke the law by funneling co-op money to his lobbyist
brother, Curtis Fuelberg, and to Bill Price, the son of a former director.
The payments passed through the co-op's outside law firm, Clark, Thomas &
Winters of Austin.
As he summed up the case against Bennie Fuelberg, prosecutor Harry White
pointed to the contracts that governed Fuelberg's employment at the co-op,
the largest member-owned electric utility in the country.
"Those contracts say you've got to follow the rules of the co-op ... which
say amongst certain things , tell the truth and protect co-op assets," White
said. "So ask yourself: Did he follow that agreement? If not, he misapplied"
members' money, White argued.
He said that Fuelberg knew exactly what was going on when he signed off on
legal invoices that included inflated charges — charges that secretly paid
his brother between 1996 and 2007. "This is his system. He is intentionally
sending money to Curtis Fuelberg," White said.
"Bennie Fuelberg didn't have the authority to do what he did," White told
the jury. "If he did, he would have been open about it." Instead, White
said, Fuelberg and Walter Demond, the co-op's attorney at Clark, Thomas &
White, conspired to deceive the co-op board of directors and its members.
White called the system of mailing checks to a second party (the law firm)
who then sent them to a third party (Curtis Fuelberg) "classic money
"The reason Bennie Fuelberg kept a secret was because he knew it was wrong,"
White said. "What he did was he took money that didn't belong to him, that
belonged to normal people, and gave it to his brother."
Defense attorney Chris Gunter focused first on Price. Fuelberg testified
that he knew nothing about that arrangement, though he admitted suggesting
to Demond that Price might be of service to the firm.
Fuelberg "was just being nice" in mentioning Price to Demond, Gunter said.
"And Walter, in an effort to keep a good client happy, calls Bill Price up
and puts him on retainer. Bennie never had any idea Walter was padding his
bill to pay for Bill Price."
Gunter called it "double hearsay" when Clark, Thomas & Winters attorney
David Duggins testified that Demond had told him that Bennie Fuelberg
approved the bills for both Curtis Fuelberg and Price.
"You cannot find Bennie Fuelberg guilty unless you find beyond a reasonable
doubt that every element of every charge can be proven," Gunter said. "They
have not proven beyond a reasonable doubt ... that Bennie Fuelberg knew
anything about Bill Price."
Gunter said Bennie Fuelberg's decision to secretly hire his brother
"destroyed his legacy" at Pedernales and that Fuelberg acknowledges that he
made a mistake.
"It did look bad. That's why we're here, because it looks bad to hire your
brother. But looking bad, ladies and gentlemen, is not against the law."
Gunter also argued that Curtis Fuelberg provided legislative services of
value to the co-op by helping kill the 1997 electricity deregulation bill,
which Bennie Fuelberg said saved the co-op $10 million.
"Is that value? You bet it is," Gunter said. (Deregulation did pass the
Legislature two years later.)
Fuelberg is charged with misapplication of fiduciary property in excess of
$200,000, theft of property in excess of $200,000, and money laundering
between $100,000 and $200,000.
The first two charges are first-degree felonies that carry maximum 99-year
sentences. The other charge is a second-degree felony that carries a maximum
20-year prison sentence upon conviction.
However, Judge Dan Mills granted jurors the option Thursday of convicting
Fuelberg on lesser, third-degree versions of those charges.
pgeorge at statesman.com; 512-392-8750
Find this article at:
Milton Hawkins milton.hawkins at gmail.com
P.O. Box 1502
Johnson City, Texas 78636-1502
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