[Watchdogs] Seeking white-collar justice [Editorial Board, Austin American-Statesman]
milton.hawkins at gmail.com
Tue Dec 14 22:24:46 CST 2010
[Note the call for increased restitution. I figure Bennie owes us at least
$7.5 million. (See attached document detailing restitution calculations.)
Seeking white-collar justice Editorial Board
Published: 7:50 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010
Bennie Fuelberg and Kino Flores were once masters of all that they surveyed,
and they acted like it.
Fuelberg ran the Pedernales Electric Cooperative with an iron fist, and
Flores, a Democrat who represented Palmview in the Texas House, earned the
nickname "Mr. 10 Percent" for the cut he'd demand from state contracts he
helped to secure.
Both had a long run at abusing their authority before they got caught in the
wheels of the criminal justice system, and now they are in the process of
becoming just two more in an unhappy and undistinguished collection of
400,000 or so Texas probationers.
Fuelberg was convicted Friday of third-degree theft, misapplication of
fiduciary property and money laundering. A Gillespie County jury recommended
that the sentence include a $30,000 fine — the maximum $10,000 for each of
the third-degree felony convictions. State District Judge Dan Mills will set
the terms of probation for Fuelberg in January. Mills indicated that the
conditions might include a sum of restitution and some jail time.
State District Judge Bob Perkins sentenced Flores, convicted in Travis
County on felony ethics violation charges, to five years probation and a
On paper, both men are ideal candidates for probation. Neither were violent
offenders, and neither had a criminal record.
Fuelberg is a decorated
Vietnam veteran. Lawyers who represent veterans who run afoul of the law
often cite a defendant's military record in hopes of scoring sympathy — or
empathy — from judges and juries.
Yet there is something emotionally unsettling about watching people in
positions of trust walk away with what seems on the surface to be the
clichéd slap on the wrist.
But is it?
Essentially, Fuelberg and Flores are through in their chosen careers. If
Flores harbors any illusions of somehow reinserting himself into public
life, he can forget it. Politically, Flores, 52, is radioactive and should
remain so just long enough to make a comeback out of reach.
Any chance that Fuelberg, at 66, will ever occupy a position of trust at a
utility or any other business is highly unlikely.
Putting them in prison might be emotionally satisfying, but practically it
would do little but add two more to an already bulging prison population.
Objectively speaking, they are the kinds of prisoners that would be top
candidates for early release once prison crowding or budget cuts forced a
reduction in the inmate population.
Whether society would be better off with these two white-collar criminals
behind bars is a matter of conjecture and debate, but it's ultimately a
*Mills should consider making Fuelberg pay a heftier sum of restitution than
the $84,000 figure tossed around on Monday. Making the former co-op chief
dig deep would be a punishment fitting the crime. During his 30-year reign
at PEC, Fuelberg illegally funneled hundred of thousands of dollars in co-op
money to his brother.*
As for Flores, we'd recommend that he voluntarily give clinics on the
dangers of drinking deeply of that most ancient of intoxicants — power — as
part of orientation for newly elected officials in Austin and in the Rio
Grande Valley he calls home.
Courthouse lawyers like to say that sometimes you get justice and sometimes
you get mercy. Paying back the money in Fuelberg's case and serving as a
caution against greed and hubris in Flores' case would be just indeed.
Find this article at:
Milton Hawkins milton.hawkins at gmail.com
P.O. Box 1502
Johnson City, Texas 78636-1502
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