POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Smear Campaigns PSST, BUDDY, WAN NA BUY A SHIT FARM? Observer readers should be more than familiar with the west Texas town of Sierra Blanca. County seat of Hudspeth County, 80 miles southeast of El Paso, population about 700, the tiny town has spent the past decade alternately courting and resisting the economic pull of other people’s crap. Most prominent in this see-saw was the long fight, finally settled in October 1998, over a proposed nuclear waste dump. Anti-dump activists won a long-shot victory in killing the proposal \(see “The Woman Who Slew Goliath,” by Ayelet Hines, February 5, But through it all, from 1992 until July 2001, Sierra Blanca was on the receiving end of what came to be unaffectionately known as the “poopoo choo-choo”a train delivering hundreds of tons of toxic New York City sewage sludge per day to be spread over 80,000 acres of Chihuahuan desert. Local activist Bill Addington agitated against the dump for years, but it was cold hard cash that finally shuttered the operation in July 2001: New York City decided that the 2,500-mile shipment was no longer cost-effective. Merco Joint Ventures, which held the contract to spread the sludge, was left holding the bag and declared bankruptcy. Now Sierra Blanca Ranch Partnersthe Merco subsidiary which owns the 128,000 acre parcel encompassing the sludge sitehas put the property on the block to satisfy outstanding debts of $4,367,229.77. Addington found the notice of sale at the county courthouse, where the auction took place at 10 a.m. on September 3. The 40 some pages of the notice describe in great detail the legal boundaries and definitions of the property. They do not include any mention of the fact that more than half of the 120-squaremile property has been caked under thousands of tons of shit, but perhaps that’s reflected in the relatively modest per-acre asking price of $34. As this issue of the Observer went to press, Addington called from the courthouse steps to report that the auction had just been completed, with the property being sold to the sole bidder for $3.3 million. The sole bidder, as it turns out, is John Picone, a New York City contractor and early partner in, that’s right, Merco Joint Ventures. Even the bulldoggish Addington hasn’t had time to figure out exactly how Picone managed to structure a deal in which he apparently purchased the land from himself, and for a discount, but he thinks it smells funny, if not downright shitty. Picone, after all, has been linked to New York’s Luchese crime family by Newsdaya link that Picone has denied. Local rumors have focused on the fear that the property might next be used for dumping dairy waste, but only Picone knows for sure. Maybe he just wants to try his hand at organic farming. LEARNING CURVE At the very least, credit Tulia law enforcement with being consistent: They appear to discriminate equally against both blacks and Hispanics. First there was the now well-publicized bust of nearly 10 percent of the town’s small black population in 1999 \(see “Color of Justice:’ by Nate Blakeslee, June 23, single narc with a questionable histo ry. Then last May, at the invitation of Tulia police, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission busted up a predominantly Hispanic backyard high school graduation party. The officers had no warrant but insist they saw minors drinking from beer cans in an alley adjacent to the property. According to the owners of the home, there was a keg in the backyard but no beer cans at the party. They insist no minors were drinking alcohol. Agents forced about 50 guests at the party, including a pregnant woman and children as young as six, to kneel with their hands above their heads while the officers checked identification cards. When the mother of the house, Silvia Rosales protested, an officer handcuffed her and hustled her to a squad car. Rosales was driven to the county jail but then quickly returned to the house. A total of 22 minors were cited for illegal possession of alcohol and three people were jailed for disorderly conduct. None of the kids at the party were tested for alcohol despite the requests of at least one parent present. Residents say at least two Anglo children from prominent local families were allowed to leave without being ticketed. After listening to testimony from victims of the TABC raid, Swisher County District Attorney Terry McEachern wisely declined to prosecute any of the cases. Tulia authorities are already facing investigations from the U.S. Justice Department and the State Attorney General’s Office for the 1999 drug busts. Both LULAC and a local civil rights organization called Friends of Justice have mobilized to protest the TABC raid, and now to have the arrests expunged 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER -9/13/02
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.