News » The QueQue

Connolly fights back, WAO cleans house


Def squad

Suddenly last week, everyone cared about about the death penalty. All it took was one pretty-damn-sure innocent man (RIP Cameron Todd Willingham, executed February 17, 2004, charged with intentionally starting a fire that killed his three young children) and a poorly timed move by Governor Rick Perry, who replaced three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission days ahead of a scheduled hearing into Willingham’s case. Out with sitting Chair Sam Bassett, who supported the review, and in with John M. Bradley, the hardnosed Williamson County prosecutor appointed DA by Perry in 2001. Bradley immediately postponed the Willingham hearing — which also encompassed the case of Ernest Ray Willis, who was released from prision in October 2004 — to give the new members time to get their heads around the issues, according to Commission Coordinator Leigh M. Tomlin.

Headlines across the state immediately accused the Guv of trying to bury the investigation. The Express-News even ran a story (picked up from its sister pub. in Houston) that managed not to mention until the latter half of the story that the terms of the commissioners Perry replaced had expired at the beginning of the month. (Guess the E-N’s Third Street Grackles cycling team doesn’t ride with bike-enthusiast Perry.) Bassett was initially appointed by Perry, and served two terms, as did the other two commissioners. All three hoped to be reappointed, according to Tomlin.

Bradley’s office did not return calls seeking comment, but the New York Times reported October 1 that “Mr. Bradley said he did not know if he would continue the inquiry into the Willingham conviction that his predecessor had started. He said he wanted to consult with the lawmakers who created the commission about its mission.”

Given the attention now focused on the Willingham case — thanks in no small part to a New Yorker story that details the divination used to convict him and the damning review of independent arson investigators — it seems unlikely that it could be swept under the rug, even if that is Ken Doll’s intention. But even if his opportunity’s disappeared in the cleansing sunshine of the media, Perry, who as governor denied Willingham a reprieve in 2004, has motive: If/when the committee seconds their hired expert’s analysis, they will forward their findings to both the Governor and the DAs of the counties in which the men were convicted. It’s too late to undo the injustice in Willingham’s case, but an official state acknowledgment that an innocent man was executed would likely provide a significant moral boost to the anti-death-penalty cause — and ammunition for Perry opponents in next year’s gubernatorial election.

`See Aaron Haas’s analysis of the effect of the Willingham and Sharon “We Close at 5” Keller cases, at Reasonable Doubt, September 16.`

Depth charge

Well, here’s a shocker: Disgraced PR politico and BexarMet advisor T.J. Connolly says he’s being persecuted by District Attorney Susan Reed, who’s charged Connolly with two felony counts of illegal corporate campaign donations and multiple misdemeanor slaps for funneling donations through his employees. Although the total amount of money involved in the felony indictments is only $2,750, Connolly’s been charged as a corporate officer, so if he’s convicted, he could be looking at 20 years of Folsom Prison Blues. Appropriately enough, he’s sounding a little agitated as his October 26 court date approaches.

“Never in my life have I been a corporation,” Connolly told the QueQue. He wrote the offending checks on his company account, a limited partnership called Connolly & Co. Ltd. And although he is a corporate officer for Connolly & Co. Inc., which owns a 1 percent stake in the limited partnership, he says, “You cannot morph a limited partnership into a corporation just because I’m an asshole.”

He’s found an attorney who agrees. “`The DA` knew it was a stretch,” says Adam Cortez. “It’s outrageous that they would go this far.” The state can’t win this one as a matter of law, he adds. “The problem is that limited partnerships don’t belong to the partners and/or the shareholders.”

“Well, I guess that’s for a jury to decide,” replied Adriana Biggs, chief of the DA’s white-collar-crime division, who calls the indictments just a sampling of Connolly’s “pattern and practice.”

“I think Adam’s best bet is to really make it as complicated as possible,” Biggs added.

How complicated could it get? The limited partnership consists of Connolly and the corporation, Biggs says, so they’re “corporate funds and they’re being issued out of a Limited Partnership bank account ... `The money’s` not cleansed.

Cortez sounds just as confident. He predicts Connolly won’t be convicted, and “if he is, it won’t stick on appeal.”

Damn natural gas

We just have too much of the stuff, and that’s driven down profits at one of the city’s biggest cash cows: CPS Energy. To keep the city’s 14-percent cut of CPS profits from growing too anemic, CPS plans to raise your rates by more than 9 percent next spring, CPS Chief Financial Officer Paula Gold-Williams told the CPS Board of Directors on Monday. Chin up, though: Once the Spruce Two coal plant comes online later in the year, they may credit you back a dollar or two. Her other message was that the proposed $5.2 billion South Texas Project nuclear expansion is not the only reason for the regular rate increases they’re projecting deep in the next decade. “If we decided not to `build the two new reactors`, you’d still have pressure, no matter what option you choose,” Gold-Williams said.

But if City Council gives CPS the all-clear later this month to take out another $400 million in debt service to fund the nuclear path, there will be other unanticipated victims. Specifically: planned installation of scrubbers for our old coal plants that would help limit high-ozone days, heart attacks, and new cases of asthma by eliminating the bulk of the sulfur dioxide coming out of the stacks. These scrubbers — supposedly paid for in that infamous 2008 3.5-percent rate increase — would have to wait “a year or so,” said Gold-Williams. Still, don’t blame nuclear.

It’s becoming something of a mantra around CPS: Nuclear, even at $5.2 billion for a 40-percent share, is “only one tool in the toolbox.” While CPS’s leadership doesn’t think renewable sources can boost the city over the coming projected energy shortfall of 2020, they’re super-excited about using green power to fill the next gap. The utility plans to retire six gas turbines in the 2020s, CPS Energy’s chief sustaina-dude Cris Eugster reminded the board, losing roughly 2,200 megawatts in the process that they can replace with wind, solar, negawatts, whatever. Of course, many on the green scene have been arguing these solutions could meet not just that 2030 gap, but the 2020 projected gap that CPS plans to plug with nuclear. Green power? Meet San Anto-style hesitancy.

First, get the nuke deal done for 1,000 jobs 200 miles away. Then we’ll consider Jeremy Rifkin and his wild-eyed projections of 10,000 San Antonio-area jobs per year all the way out to 2030. “We don’t want to go bet on a lot of things,” Eugster told the board. “We want them to prove themselves out.”

Translation: We’ll let California, Arizona, Spain, China, etc., work out the kinks in clean energy. We’re sure Bill Gates had the same tentative curiousity about circuit boards.

Phone call of the wild

The lion queen is defunct; long live the lions. On October 1, the embattled Wild Animal Orphanage announced “the termination of Ron and Carol Asvestas as employees effective immediately,” as well as the removal of Carol Asvestas from the board of directors. Daughter Nicole Asvestas-García, who promptly dropped her maiden hyphenation, has been named the new CEO. Carol Asvestas could not be reached for comment, and former husband Ron didn’t respond to an email sent by the Current.

For years, WAO has been fighting allegations of poor animal care and worse money management, and both the USDA and the Texas Attorney General’s office are keeping a close eye on the sanctuary, which is located in northwest Bexar County. But it seems the Nicole broom is eager to clean up WAO’s act. The latest player to leave the WAO world is Eric “I’m not avoiding you” Turton, the former WAO attorney who was (is?) representing the Asvestases in a libel suit against the San Antonio Lightning. Turton promised to show the Current all of WAO’s animal-death reports, then canceled, and stopped returning our many phone calls.

“On Friday, I placed him on a stand-down,” new CEO García told the Current on Monday. “I didn’t want him to do anything in relation to WAO until I could speak to him. But on Sunday we received a letter of resignation from him.”

Not surprisingly, Turton didn’t reply to a phone call from the QueQue.

WAO’s website was updated on Monday at about 5 p.m., and it lists the executive board as Karen Maxfield (President), Sumner Matthes (Vice President), and Michelle Cryer (Treasurer/Co-Secretary), all survivors of the previous board. It also includes a list of 13 mostly full-time staffers led by García, Jamie Cryer as Chief Financial Officer, and William West, CPA, as Chief Advisor.

“There are no new staffers that weren’t there before, but everybody — including myself — is working on a voluntary and temporary basis,” said García. “Before anybody is chosen to work full-time on a permanent basis we’re going to do background checks and the whole nine yards. We’re not going to have a repeat of the history at all.”

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