Ken Paxton

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Potter County Grand Jury Indicts Current, Former Sheriff's Department Officials

AMARILLO A Potter County grand jury today issued public corruption charges against three suspects, two of whom were indicted for illegally using their senior positions at the Potter County Sheriff’s Department for personal gain.

According to the indictments, Potter County Sheriff Michael C. Shumate, 58, accepted illegal bribes from the county’s jail food service and commissary vendor, Mid-America Services Inc. Former Chief Deputy Kenneth R. Farren, 55, faces unrelated charges of misusing county employee and inmate labor for his personal gain. Charges against a third individual, Robert W. Austin Jr., 53, the president of Mid-America Services, stem from allegations that he and his company used bribes to obtain contracts with the county. Shumate and Farren are surrendering to Attorney General’s investigators today at the FBI office in Amarillo.

The investigation that led to today’s indictments began with the FBI, which referred corruption allegations to the Office of the Attorney General. Evidence obtained by the FBI indicated that Shumate and Austin were engaged in an illegal scheme to ensure Mid-America was awarded and retained the county’s jail food service and commissary contracts. The Potter County Attorney’s Office referred the investigation of Farren to the Office of the Attorney General.

According to the indictments, Austin and his Dallas-based company, Mid-America, secured the commissary and food service contracts with Potter County by providing valuable inducements to Shumate. The alleged inducements included cash and checks, out-of-state trips, laptop computers, meals, clothing and other items of value.

The indictments also charge Shumate with unlawfully accepting checks from Mid-America Services. It is alleged that corporate checks were not reported on Shumate’s campaign finance reports, which the Texas Election Code requires county elected officials to file with local authorities.

Former Chief Deputy Farren faces two separate abuse of official capacity charges for his use of county employees and jail inmates for projects that personally benefited him at his home. Further evidence was obtained Tuesday when investigators with the Office of the Attorney General and the FBI executed a search warrant at Farren’s home.