A simple Christmas party is now turning into a NewsChannel 11 investigation. And it has to do with who was at the party. NewsChannel has confirmed through sources that Robert Wayne Austin, Jr. was at a Christmas party Saturday at the home of Lubbock County Sheriff David Gutierrez.
Austin is indicted for organized crime and bribery in Potter County. And that's not all. He is also President of Mid-America Services, a company that currently holds the food services contract for the Lubbock County Jail and the same company also provided food for the Sheriff's Party.
Also indicted was the current Potter County Sheriff Michael Shumate. He was indicted for public corruption charges stemming from allegedly accepting bribes from Austin and Mid-America.
The investigation started when we learned Austin was a guest at the Sheriff's party and that his company also provided the food. Our questions:
I asked the sheriff, "Why was this guy... With the storm around this company and this person, the indictments, why was this guy invited?"
The sheriff replied, "Well it wasn't just this individual. At my home I have a Christmas party to invite my top command and friends that I have and I've been doing this for years."
I then asked, "Did he provide the food for your Christmas party?"
The sheriff's reply, "Everything that was provided at my Christmas party was paid for."
Sheriff Gutierrez didn't deny the food came from Mid-America Services and sources tell us that's where the food came from.
Party aside, NewsChannel 11 wanted to know about the company's dealings with Lubbock County. Mid-America Services holds the contract for food service at Lubbock's current and future jails.
I asked, "Why were they selected for this contract for the food service here?"
Jail Administrator Kelly Rowe said, "First part of the summer we put out a request for proposal for food service and I think we had three of the large companies submit bids on that."
County Commissioner Bill McCay added, "We had a committee made up of not just the sheriff but a number of folks throughout the county on a committee that made this selection based on the best bid, the bid that would meet Lubbock County's needs."
Commissioner McCay says commissioners weren't aware of any alleged criminal activity when the contracts were approved. But if Mid-America is found to be guilty, "if in fact that members of this company, current employees of this company have been involved or have been convicted of crimes then that's something that we need to look at and scrub very hard if we want to continue to do business with that sort of a company," McCay added.
I asked Sheriff Gutierrez, "Would you recommend that the jail go with a different service provider if it turns out that this company where involved in illegal activities?"
The sheriff said, "I think together we'll do what we have to do. I mean, the commissioners seek my input regularly and I'll be glad to provide that input. But at this point in time the contract was awarded in the summer and took over October 1st."