Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Something needs to stop people like this, who have so much money and so much power..."

Sisters sue businessman and his son claiming sexual abuse

Travis County founder of a highway construction company accused of molesting children, promising to pay them if they kept quiet.

April 12, 2008

By Claire Osborn
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

Two sisters have sued the founder of a Travis County highway construction company, saying that he sexually abused them as children, promised to pay them if they didn't file criminal or civil charges, and then stopped the payments after the legal time limit for pressing the charges expired.

Jackie Fowler, 35, and Jeni Vejil Abrams, 31, sued J.D. Abrams, the 79-year-old founder of J.D. Abrams LP on April 3. They also sued his son, Jon F. Abrams, 56, alleging that he sexually assaulted Fowler in her childhood. There is videotaped evidence of the abuse, according to the lawsuit.

J.D. Abrams — who lives in West Lake Hills, according to the lawsuit — could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Jason Nassour, did not return several calls this week. Nassour was served with the lawsuit Monday, according to a public document.

Jon Abrams, who answered the phone at the company's Austin headquarters, declined to comment last week, as did his lawyer, Thomas Watkins.

The sisters are being represented by attorneys Robert Kizer and Roy Minton.

"Something needs to stop people like this, that have so much money and so much power, from doing this to children," Kizer said.

The lawsuit says there is a videotape of J.D. Abrams assaulting the sisters when they were children.

Minton said the case is "truly tragic." He has not referred it to the Travis County district attorney's office for investigation because the criminal statute of limitations has expired, Minton said.

According to the lawsuit, the mother of Fowler and Jeni Vejil Abrams moved in with J.D. Abrams when she began a 20-year relationship with him. They met while she was working at his company, the lawsuit says.

Jeni Vejil Abrams was never legally adopted by J.D. Abrams but has used his last name since she was 4 years old, Kizer said.

In 1983, the lawsuit says, J.D. Abrams began molesting Jackie Fowler, then 11, and Jeni Vejil Abrams, who was 7 or 8, while both girls were living at his house.

"J.D. Abrams regularly and continuously arranged to have the two elementary-aged young girls together with him in bed for sexual activities," the lawsuit says. He videotaped the molestation and insisted "that the girls smoke marijuana and use cocaine," according to the lawsuit.

Jon Abrams "ran errands" with Fowler while she was a child and sexually assaulted her in his truck and in his home while his wife was away, according to the lawsuit. The girls were able to end the sexual abuse when they became adults, the lawsuit says.

J.D. Abrams promised the sisters that he would always provide for their financial needs if they did not file criminal or civil charges against him and his son, the lawsuit says. He supported them, including making down payments on houses and buying them cars, until 2006, when he decided that the statute of limitations prevented them from filing charges, Kizer said.

J.D. Abrams also wrote a promise on a napkin to pay each of the sisters $500,000, which he did not do, Kizer said.

Kizer said the girls' mother, who was not identified in the lawsuit, knew about the sexual abuse but was as much a victim as her daughters. "She never pushed it forward, and he continued to take care of her as well," Kizer said.

The mother is no longer involved with J.D. Abrams and doesn't receive financial support from him any more, Kizer said.

The time limit for filing a lawsuit has expired, but in this case, it can be extended, Kizer said.

A victim has five years after his or her 18th birthday to file a lawsuit alleging sexual assault of a child. But the statute of limitations can be extended in this case, Kizer said, because J.D. Abrams and Jon Abrams are accused of coercing the sisters by making payments to them to prevent them from filing charges.

Criminal charges cannot be filed in the case because the statute of limitations law that was in effect when the sexual abuse is said to have occurred gave a victim 10 years after his or her 18th birthday to file charges, Kizer said. A new law was passed in September that does not put a time limit on filing sexual abuse of a child charges, but the new law is not retroactive, he said.; 445-3871

© 2008 Austin American-Statesman:

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Friday, April 11, 2008

"Perry and Secretary of State Phil Wilson had dinner at Fleming’s steakhouse Wednesday night with a murderer’s row of Wall Street"

Perry, politics, pensions and Wall Street (updated)

April 11, 2008

By Robert Elder
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2008

With the heads of four big investment banks in town this week, Gov. Rick Perry figured he might as well get a little schmoozing in. Perry and Secretary of State Phil Wilson had dinner at Fleming’s steakhouse Wednesday night with a murderer’s row of Wall Street: Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase; Lawrence Fink of BlackRock; Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers; and John Mack of Morgan Stanley.

Also attending was James Lee, a prominent Republican contributor whom Perry recently appointed as chairman of the TRS board of trustees, and a TRS official or two.

The Wall Streeters weren’t in Austin just to see Perry. Each of their firms was chosen by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to be a “strategic partner.” That means the TRS — at $108 billion, one of the nation’s largest pension funds — gives each of four firms $1 billion each to invest in public markets worldwide. It’s part of TRS investment chief Britt Harris’ plan to boost returns at the fund by tapping the expertise of institutional investors who have deep global investing experience.

Each of the firms will be paid based on performance. But there is a base fee that works out to about $2 million for each firm regardless of how well their investments perform. That sounds like an astounding sum, but in this type of investing it’s not at all extreme. The firms will earn the really big money if they outperform investment benchmarks set by TRS.

I’m sure the potentially lucrative partnership played a role in getting the big four to come to Austin. All of them, with the exception of Dimon, appeared at the TRS board meeting Thursday. (JP Morgan was represented by James “Jes” Staley, the firm’s head of asset management.)

Perry spokesman Robert Black told me today the dinner was set up by Wilson. (Wilson has informally added “chief economic development officer” to his secretary of state duties. Nothing unusual about that; the secretary’s job has been molded to the occupant’s desires and interests for decades.)

“The governor just went to pitch them and sell them on investing in a lot of different areas in Texas,” Black said. “Whenever you have the opportunity to get those types of CEOs in front of the state’s CEO, it can be nothing but beneficial.

“The governor took the opportunity to talk about opportunities for investment that may be available now or in the future,” he said.

Anything specific?

“Nothing yet,” Black said. “Maybe later, though.”

Lee didn’t return a phone message today, but he sent a statement through TRS’ communications office: “This week, the TRS Board approved creation of a groundbreaking partnership with four of the world’s leading investment firms… . Since millions of Texas educators will benefit from the program, I invited Secretary of State Phil Wilson to join us so he could personally welcome the CEOs to Texas and thank them for their willingness to participate in our program. When Wilson learned that Texas would have the first partnership of this kind, he also invited the governor to join us. It was a great opportunity for the CEOs to see how much we in Texas appreciate their commitment to strengthening our trust fund.”

© 2008 Austin American-Statesman:

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

"This is government run amok. This is exactly what the framers of our constitution were afraid of. This is not what our country was founded on."

Bracing for the road ahead: Corridor project endangers Cass County ranch

April 10, 2008

Country World News
Copyright 2008

Joe Harrison, 47, never imagined he’d be fighting to save the land his parents purchased more than 40 years ago.

If the project goes through, Harrison and his family could lose a large portion of their land. Harrison said the land has provided a livelihood for his family for more than four decades. The family grows timber, produces bahia seed, hay and leases cattle pasture on the land.

“We’re a working tree farm,” noted Harrison. “We’re also on a state managed wildlife program. We have to be diverse to make it these days.”

Harrison said the land has never made the family rich, but they’ve all taken great pride in operating the ranch.

“We’ve never made a killing out of any of this,” he said. “Nobody does this kind of work for the money, they do it because their heart’s in it.”

Today, Harrison is pouring his heart into fighting the massive Trans-Texas Corridor (consisting of TTC-35 and TTC-69). Harrison, who will be affected by the TTC-69 portion of the project, said he first heard about the original project (TTC-35) as a member of Texas Farm Bureau. Later, he said, he learned about the 69 portion of the project (then being referred to as I-69).

“I feel very misled and lied to by the Texas Department of Transportation,” said Harrison. “They were talking about 69 being an interstate.” It was later, he said, he learned otherwise: The I-69 project was really a branch of the TTC. “We have to have infrastructure, but this is not an infrastructure project,” he said. “An infrastructure project benefits the public good. This is not going to benefit the average Texan.”

When the maps of the proposed TTC-69 project were released, Harrison made a shocking discovery: His family’s farm and the house where his parents reside sit directly in the proposed pathway of the project.

“You felt like a burglar had been in your house,” recalled Harrison.

Peggy, 69, said she was shocked.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said while starring at a map and pointing to the location of Big Sandy Ranch.

As introduced, House Bill 2006 may have offered some hope for the Harrisons. The bill set strict limitations on eminent domain. In addition, the bill, if enacted, would have allowed property owners to sue if access to their property was “diminished” because of road projects or construction. Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill in June 2007.

“My name is now on a petition calling for his impeachment,” said Harrison, who noted that Perry was elected under the Republican platform, which clearly states an opposition to the project.

The project, which would require a 1,200-foot easement, would take approximately one-half of a million acres from Texas landowners. Current plans indicate the project will be built by private sector companies, led by the Spanish-owned company Cintra, a company that has a history of producing and operating major toll roads. Under tentative agreements, Cintra would collect the profits from the toll roads for at least 50 years and reserve the rights to lease the corridor. The estimated cost of the project is more than $100 billion.

Harrison said financial implications for the state and taxpayers should have all the citizens of Texas in an uproar, even if their land is not at risk. “This is going to destroy our local economies,” he said.

Land taken for the building of the toll road will be removed from a county’s tax base. The toll road will bypass many local services, which, Harrison added, rely on traveling motorists to survive.

In addition, the popular timber industry of the area would also be affected.

“Timber is the number one crop in this county,” Harrison said. “Between the amount of timberland they would take and the new route you would have to take to get it to market, it will devalue timber in this area tremendously.”

He added that the other implications go beyond the economics. He said the situation highlights a lot about the state of Texas and its government.

“Any Texan should be offended,” Harrison noted. “If they have the right to do this to us, then they have the right to do it to you.

“It doesn’t matter if your land is at risk - the welfare of your family is, by the authority they are trying to give the government to take your land, for what amounts to a private project.

“A lot of good people bled and died to free this state from Mexico and now we have a government wanting to give a half-million acres to a Spanish company. This is government run amok. This is exactly what the framers of our constitution were afraid of. This is not what our country was founded on.

“You’re talking about displacing one-million people. You’re talking about numbers that are greater than some of the worst atrocities in history.”

Despite being enticed with the guarantee the family would receive fair market value for their land, the Harrisons remain not only skeptical, but angry. “The Highway Department is not known as a high-dollar payer when they take your land,” said Peggy. “We didn’t inherit our land, my husband and I bought it.”

Regardless if the land was inherited or not, Harrison said there is no “fair” price for property owners affected by the corridor.

“There is not enough money to replace this place and what it means,” said Harrison. “You’re talking about wiping out a family history and there isn’t a dollar amount for that.”

Harrison said many people in his area are waiting to find out what will happen next. Families with inherited land aren’t building or investing money in the property. Harrison and his wife, who planned to build a house atop a large hill on their property, are waiting too. If the 69 portion of the corridor comes through their land, the Indian mounds, the Civil War graveyard, his parents’ house, and his future home will all be in jeopardy.
“It could take between 500 and 1,400 acres (of the family land), depending on where they chose to bisect,” noted Harrison. “If you cut it in half, it’s useless.”

While the future of his family’s farm remains in the balance, Harrison said he has a responsibility to uphold to his family. Timber on Big Sandy Ranch is planted with the intention that someday it will fund a child or grandchild’s future, maybe even college education. Harrison said he still works each day with those intentions in mind.

“We have an investment in our future in what we’ve put in planting timber and tending timber,” he explained. “We have to keep going day to day. We can’t put our lives on hold. That’s what’s hardest about this.

“I have to work everyday to keep this place going. Nobody should be forced to sell what they’ve invested in.”

The Harrisons still have hope. With public opinion of the TTC increasingly poor, Peggy said she hopes the people of Texas are able to have their voices heard.

“It should go up for a direct vote,” she said. “Something that major - people should have a say in that.”

Harrison said the corridors can be fought, but it will require some effort.

“There are ways, on a grassroots level, to make this thing so expensive, they won’t want to do it,” he said. “It’s going to take making it costly enough and difficult enough, and quite frankly it’s going to take politicians realizing that there are going to be ramifications for this.”

Harrison added that he has also signed a petition (being circulated by the Independent party of Texas) calling for a Congressional investigation into the TTC projects. He encouraged others to attend corridor meetings, work with grassroots groups and stay informed.

“This is about taking people’s land,” he said. “I should have the right to determine if I sell or not.

“If you care at all about justice, this will offend you.”

© 2008 Country World News:

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"We don't care who builds it as long as it is built."

North Texas Tollway Authority offers $1.2 billion for State Highway 161

Authority says it will step aside if state thinks it can get better offer for Dallas County highway

April 8, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

The North Texas Tollway Authority put a $1.2 billion price tag on the State Highway 161 toll road Monday, and said if the state Transportation Department thinks a private firm would pay more, the authority would step aside from the project in return for minor concessions.

The proposal all but guarantees the 10-mile Dallas County highway will be built as a toll road, an outcome that had been in doubt until Monday.

If accepted, the proposal – which NTTA called its "best and final offer" – would involve the authority tentatively agreeing to pay about $860 million in remaining construction costs and to pay the state $298 million upfront to be spent on North Texas road projects.

In return, NTTA would build and operate the toll road in perpetuity. NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman said that NTTA will not sweeten its offer but that it's willing to let the project be developed by a private firm if the state reimburses it for expenses it has incurred on the project and agrees to few other minor requests.

State Transportation Department spokesman Christopher Lippincott said Monday that the agency will have to study the proposal to make certain it satisfies state law. "We'll take a look at it," he said. "If this is a really a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, we may take it and we may leave it."

State transportation officials have said NTTA must assume that its contract would last no more than 52 years – the limit for private toll contracts under state law. NTTA's $1.2 billion price, however, assumes NTTA would be able to keep tolls on Highway 161 forever, giving the state 20 percent of the revenue in year 53 and beyond.

Even if the state accepts NTTA's price tag, the authority would still have the right to opt out of the deal between now and midsummer, when its financial calculations are expected to be complete.

Nevertheless, Monday's proposal was seen as a key breakthrough by North Texas transportation leaders who have fretted for months over stalled negotiations between the state and NTTA.

The toll road is seen as a key reliever route for State Highway 360, and the upfront payments are badly needed by the region for other projects, including the $1.5 billion expansion of the LBJ Freeway later this year.

Highway 161"is so important we just want it to get going," said Tom Hart, city manager for Grand Prairie. "We don't care who builds it as long as it is built."

Regional council

The position of the North Central Texas Council of Governments regional transportation council would probably weigh heavily on a final decision by the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin.

The regional council, which sets transportation policy for North Texas, meets Thursday and is expected to make a recommendation on whether to accept NTTA's offer to move forward using the $1.2 billion price tag. It also could decide to urge the state to reject the value and instead seek private bidders.

"The good thing is that this is going to get the decision in front of the RTC, which is where it needs to be," said regional council chairman Oscar Trevino, who is also mayor of North Richland Hills. "We just have to decide what we are going to do. More than anything, this lets us get a road built."

He said he expects opinions to be split at the council, noting that some think NTTA has undervalued the toll contract.

'A big day'

Michael Morris, transportation director for the council of governments, said legal complexities make evaluating the NTTA position difficult, and declined Monday to say what advice he will have for the transportation council when it meets Thursday.

"NTTA should be congratulated. This is a major step, and a big day," Mr. Morris said.

But he added that TxDOT lawyers first will have to be satisfied that the NTTA proposal meets the legal requirements spelled out in Senate Bill 792, the law passed last year that has essentially given NTTA a veto power over all toll roads proposed for North Texas.

NTTA lawyer Frank Stevenson said the agency is convinced its proposal meets those legal thresholds, but TxDOT said it is still studying the matter.

Before voting Monday, several members of the NTTA board of directors said the process imposed by the Legislature – though it was intended to empower NTTA – had led to a sloppy and ineffective process.

"This process is flawed, and a horrible way for supposed partners to reach an agreement," said NTTA board member David Denison of Lewisville.

Mr. Trevino agreed, and said no matter what happens with the Highway 161 project, it's clear the Legislature needs to review rules for toll roads when it meets again next year.

"That's the good news," Mr. Trevino said. "We are all in agreement that we need a new process."

Last year's law that empowered NTTA in toll road negotiations also created a commission to study the state's use of private toll road developers in the future. The panel is charged with making suggestions for changes, and Mr. Trevino and others said Monday that they expect the process under which NTTA and TxDOT have been negotiating to be modified or scrapped as well.

© 2008 The Dallas Morning News:

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Monday, April 07, 2008

"The decision on imposing peak-hour pricing rests with Commissioners Court."

Driving at rush hour may cost more on Katy Freeway

April 7, 2008

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2008

Commissioners Court will begin debating today whether to impose congestion pricing when the four toll lanes open on the rebuilt Katy Freeway in October.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority is recommending the court set a rate of $1.25 during nonpeak hours for the trip between Texas 6 and the West Loop and double that during the morning and evening rush hours.

The court voted last June to double tolls on the Westpark Tollway during rush hours but overturned its decision days later following a public outcry over the plan.

The court is expected to set the prices for toll lanes on the Katy Freeway in the coming months.

In 2002, the county, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Texas Department of Transportation agreed to cooperate on widening the 11-lane Katy Freeway to 18 lanes.

As part of that agreement, the three public bodies committed themselves to operating toll lanes that would always flow about 45 mph, giving people an incentive to pay to use them.

These lanes also will serve as high-occupancy vehicle lanes, said Peter Key, deputy director of the toll road authority.

But the pact, he said, does not require peak-hour pricing. The decision on imposing peak-hour pricing rests with Commissioners Court, he said.

"We think (peak-hour) pricing is the most effective way to keep traffic flowing and the safest way," Key said.

County Judge Ed Emmett said, "We have to maintain a certain speed in those lanes, and congestion pricing is supposed to do that."

Four middle lanes — two lanes in each direction — will be toll lanes and high-occupancy vehicle lanes. Metro buses will travel the lanes at no cost.

Vehicles with three or more occupants will be able to travel for free in the eastbound toll lanes from 6 to 11 a.m. and in the westbound toll lanes from 2 to 8 p.m., year-round.

Besides high-occupancy vehicles, only vehicles with EZ Tags will be allowed to travel the toll lanes.

With the court's permission, the toll road authority will be allowed to double prices during nonpeak hours when the traffic on the toll roads is moving slower than 45 mph, Key said.

The toll road authority will rely on Transtar cameras for information about traffic flow in the toll lanes.

Signs along the toll road and its entrances would inform drivers when prices during nonpeak hours were doubling.

If a $2.50 toll did not keep traffic flowing at a minimum of 45 mph, the toll road authority could recommend that the court raise the price, Key said.

"If we don't maintain that flowing traffic in that (Katy Freeway toll area), we will have to make changes," he said. "One potential change would be the toll rate."

Key said the toll road authority wants to see whether doubling will be enough to keep the toll lanes flowing.

"If you're going to start, it seemed like a wise idea to start on the lower end," he said.


Peak-hour prices on toll roads elsewhere in the U.S. greatly exceed the $2.50 being considered for the Katy Freeway:

• In northern Virginia, drivers pay $12 for a 12-mile ride.

• A tollway in Orange County, Calif., charges $10 for 10 miles.

• Drivers in Minneapolis pay $8 for an 11-mile ride.

© 2008 The Houston Chronicle:

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"That line in the sand is the Trans-Texas Corridor, and it's a threat to our sovereignty again, just like at the Alamo."

Trans-Texas Corridor foes march on Capitol

Critics say proposed toll-rail-utility routing will usurp property rights and harm the environment.

April 06, 2008

By Patrick George
Austin American-Statesman

For Peyton Gilbert, the battle over the Trans-Texas Corridor is reminiscent of the moment in 1836 when Lt. Col. William Travis drew a line in the sand at the Alamo and invited those willing to fight thousands of Mexican soldiers to step across.

"That line in the sand is the Trans-Texas Corridor, and it's a threat to our sovereignty again, just like at the Alamo," said Gilbert, 14, who is from Whitehouse, near Tyler.

Gilbert was among a large crowd of people who marched down Congress Avenue to the Capitol on Saturday afternoon to demonstrate against the proposed highway-rail-utility corridor and the placement of toll roads on existing freeways. The corridor would go from the Texas-Mexico border to the Oklahoma state line and have special trucking lanes, rail lines and communications and utility cables.

Opponents say Gov. Rick Perry's plan for 4,000 miles of cross-state tollways will usurp private land, will use private companies to operate toll roads and could hurt the environment. The corridor is slated to be built by private contractors, primarily Spanish firm Cintra.

"In a nutshell, we are against it because of the devastation it's going to cause rural and urban landowners, the effect it will have on the middle class and the consequences it will have on our liberty," said Hank Gilbert of Texas TURF, or Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, the San Antonio-based group that organized Saturday's rally.

"TxDOT says these corridors are for trade out of Mexico and ultimately China, but it's Texans who will have to pay out the nose for it," said Gilbert, Peyton's father.

Both spoke at the rally.

Supporters of the corridor and toll roads say they are the only way to accommodate the state's growth without increasing gasoline taxes.

"Texans need and deserve real solutions to our growing traffic challenges, not just blind opposition to new lane and highway construction," said Bill Noble, a spokesman for Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, a pro-tollway group. "Every day we delay building new roads means higher construction costs and more frustration for drivers."

In the warm, breezy spring weather, most rally participants carried signs with slogans like "No TTC!" and "Who does TTC benefit?" while listening to the band the Texicans play "The Trans-Texas Corridor Blues."

Many sported shirts and paraphernalia from Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's presidential campaign, expressing their support for the Libertarian-leaning lawmaker.

"Ron Paul stands up for the Constitution," said Charles Walker, who hails from Lake Jackson, which is in the lawmaker's district. "He was one of the original people to oppose the corridor."; 445-3851

© 2008 Austin American-Statesmn:

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Sunday, April 06, 2008


© 2008 Truth Be Tolled:

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