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POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE Off the Rails BARTON’S GRAVY TRAIN The federal campaign reports for January are out, and we now know who exactly was ridingliterallyTexas Congressman Joe Barton’s gravy train last month. rented out a train to take campaign contributors on a seven-hour trip from Fort Worth to San Antonio, part of a two-day fundraiser that included a tour of the Alamo and lots of buffets. Tickets cost $5,000 for political action committees and $2,000 for individuals, which happen to be the respective contribution limits for PACs and individuals under federal law. In his invitation, Barton wrote, according to news accounts, “During the ride, we’ll have lots of time to talk, play some Texas Hold ‘Em, and enjoy some great down home Texas food. This is about as good as it gets.” A few thousand dollars for a train ride and some poker may sound a little steep, but if you’re a lobbyist, it’s a bargain for seven hours with the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Barton and his staff refused to tell reporters at the time who had contributed. Fortunately, the recently released Federal Election Commission campaign finance reports are more forthcoming. About 20 PACs each handed over $5,000 checks around the time of the fundraiser, presumably for the privilege of riding with Barton. Checks from energy companies, including Duke Energy Corp., American Electric Power, and the El Paso Corp., appeared on the campaign finance report within days of the fundraiser not surprising since Barton’s committee oversees energy policy. Among other PACs listed are the American Podiatric Medical Association PAC, the Deloitte & Touche PAC, the Comcast Corp. PAC, and the TimeWarner PAC. \(Barton’s committee will address several telecommunications issues affecting TimeWarner and Comcast in 15 separate hearings this Congressional session, including legislation determining television “decency” standards, and a bill overseeing the The PAC contributions and individual checks reported around the time of the trip total $118,000, which accounts for most of the $169,800 that Barton raised during the first six weeks of 2006. But before you start, urn, railing against the culture of corruption in Congress, consider the comments of at least one energy lobbyist, who told the Observer that the train ride didn’t really provide the access you might have imagined. Dozens of people competed for time with the congressman, the lobbyist said. The big winner for Barton’s attention was a guy named Jackthe congressman’s new baby. A PRIVATE DEATH The horrors of the Texas prison system rarely escape the jailhouse walls, but a recent lawsuit filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project reveals a climate of negligence and violence in one privately run South Texas prison. The suit, filed February 15 in San Antonio federal district court, alleges that 23-year-old LeTisha Tapia, a prisoner at the Val Verde County Correctional Facility, was allegedly raped, beaten, and deprived of urgent mental health care. Attorneys with the Texas Civil Rights Project filed suit on behalf of Tapia’s family against the private prison company, GEO Group, that operates the facility. A number of prison guards, the jail’s warden, and the United States Marshals Service are also listed as defendants. The complaint portrays the Val Verde prison, located in Del Rio, as a madhouse where guards allowed male and female inmates to have sex. Tapia began her term at the Val Verde facility in January 2004. She pled guilty to possession of marijuana in June 2004 and expected to be released with in a year. After a riot among the male inmates, jail officials moved some of the men into the women’s cell block where “security guards allowed the male and female inmates … to enter each other’s cell to have sex,” according to the complaint. Uncomfortable with the situation, Tapia, who was married and had a 5-year-old son, complained to the warden in March or April. The warden then moved a new set of men into the cellblock. As a result, some of the women, deprived of their partners, told Tapia she needed “to prove she was not the ‘snitch’ by having sex with a male inmate,” according to the suit. The women coerced Tapia into the cell of a male inmate who raped her, according to several prisoners who gave affidavits to Scott Medlock, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. There is no evidence that Tapia received immediate psychological or medical treatment, Medlock said. The complaint notes that Tapia’s “mental state began to deteriorate.” On her birthday, July 14, Tapia had a serious anxiety attack and asked to see a psychologist. Eight days later, on July 22, she had a meeting with the jail shrink, Dr. Robert Skinner, when she asked for the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. She told Skinner of her history of depression and about a previous suicide attempt. Skinner apparently didn’t offer Tapia any treatment, later telling a GEO -commissioned investigator that he “did not find her at risk,” according to the GEO investigative report. \(GEO didn’t return a call from the Observer her family, Tapia took a phone from the psychologist’s waiting room and snuck it back to her cell. One guard, Lt. Eric Dugger, became furious with Tapia for taking the phone, physically assaulting and sexually humiliating her, according to the complaint and inmate testimony. Tapia was then strip-searched and thrown into a segregation cell naked without a blanket or hygiene products. 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 10, 2006