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and we end up housing and feeding the prisoners,” said Cordero. “We’re one of the poorest counties in the state.” When a long car chase started by a task force officer ended with a Presidio County deputy shooting the driver as he tried to run through a roadblock, the county with one of the smallest budgets in Texas was required to pay $26,000 for the shooting victim’s surgery, and Presidio County’s relationship with the Task Force grew worse. For months, Teresa Todd tried to get Finley and the task force to assume responsibility for the incident. After ignoring Todd’s letters requesting him to appear before the Commissioners Court, Finley finally paid half of the medical bill. The man was later convicted at trial, precluding what might have been an even costlier lawsuit against the county. But the incident convinced county officials that Painter”s task force was a liability it could not afford, and Presidio County opted out of the task force. Through fourteen years and four elections, Gary Painter has depended upon the region’s underground drug economy to keep him in office and fund his operations. Painter has out foxed or outlasted enemies in his own county Commissioners Court, the governor’s office, and federal authorities. At times, Painter’s operations have seemed more like public relations stunts than actual arrests. In one case he claimed to have foiled a Portuguese arms dealer’s scheme to purchase missile parts for Iran. Working with two temporarily deputized mercenaries \(widely rePainter set up the deal himself, crashing into a Midland warehouse with “Nightline” cameras rolling just as the “dealer” was taking possession of his “contraband” barrels filed with sand, labeled as missile parts. Federal authorities declined to prosecute. Nor were they impressed by Painter’s claim to have discovered, also with the use of undercover mercenaries, the existence of “terrorist training camps” in Northern Mexico. Painter returned disappointed from his meeting with C.I.A. officials in D.C. He complained to an Associated Press reporter, “It’s just very mind-boggling that this credible information is being ignored.” More troubling to Midland County officials were Painter’s frequent out-of-state stings, which took him as far afield as Illinois. Wherever there was revenue potential, Painter kept a hand in the game, ensuring that when the proceeds were divided, his office would get cut in. By the late eighties, hundreds of thousands of dollars were moving through the sheriff’s federal forfeiture accounts. In 1991, the court, led by then-County Judge Charles W. “Bro” Seltzer, moved to rein in Painter. Citing fiscal constraints and unacceptable liability risks, the court directed the sheriff’s office to confine its operations to Midland County. Seltzer told the Observer in a 1991 interview that the court was also making a statement about the turn law enforcement had taken in West Texas. “Law enforcement is not, never has been, and never should be a for-profit enterprise,” he said. Seltzer knew the county was threatening a sacred cow. “There is a whole industry of people out there professional snitches, informants, and worse who do nothing but get in good with dopers or anyone else they think they can set up, and then go peddle their deals…to the highest bidding law enforcement agency,” Seltzer said. “And frankly, some of these people are downright scary.” Seltzer had good reason to be worried. Painter responded by suing the commissioners for infringing on his consti A Commissioner Louisa Valencia Midland Reporter-Telegram tutional authority. A judge ordered Painter to limit temporarily his out-of-county activities. But the ruling also reasserted Painter’s control over forfeiture funds, which allowed him a measure of independence from the commissioners’ budgetary authority. In February of 1997, Painter’s operation was again under suspicion. Ector County D.A. John Smith in Odessa contacted the Midland Texas Ranger’s office following a meeting in which members of the Permian Basin Drug Task Force presented Robert J. “Duke” Bodish, of the governor’s Texas Narcotics Control Program, with evidence of illegal activity by Task Force Commander Tom Finley. Together with F.B.I. agent Dan Kennerly, Texas Ranger Sergeant Curtis Becker began a year-long investigation of the task force. Through interviews with current and former personnel, Becker found that Finley had falsified records including his own expense reports, training certification for himself and others, and, more importantly, his quarterly reports to the governor’s office, which included inflated figures on amounts of drugs seized. \(This is documented in the Ranger’s report obtained by the Record-keeping for the evidence vault was extremely lax, according to former employees, and drugs were missing from the vault. It was also alleged that Ector County Commissioner Mike Patton had been on the task force payroll for several months prior to taking office on the Commissioners Court. Several employees told Becker that Patton, ostensibly retained as a confidential informant, had done nothing to earn his $38,000 annual salary. Task force clerk Gloria Thornton told Becker that when she inquired about Patton’ s employment, Finley responded that the task force needed See “Posse,” page 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11 DECEMBER 10, 1999