Georgy baby is not completely on vacation!

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It seems from the following that Georgy baby is not completely on vacation!

Financial Post Final Edition
August 8, 2001

Synthetic meat king faces Texas jail beef
Montreal soy mogul charged with bribery over prison meal deal

Sean Silcoff
Financial Post, with files from news services

MONTREAL - A Montreal-born entrepreneur who sells meat substitutes by the tub and the former chief of the Texas prison system go on trial this week in Houston on charges of bribery, fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.

The bizarre case features an all-star cast of characters, including boxing legend Muhammad Ali and George Bush, the U.S. President.

The trial, which began officially with jury selection yesterday, centres on a US$33.7-million, five-year deal between James (Andy) Collins, the controversial former executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and VitaPro Foods Inc., a Montreal-based maker of beef and chicken-flavoured soybean products for institutions, founded by flamboyant entrepreneur, humanitarian and former musician and producer Yank Barry. The state alleges Mr. Collins accepted at least US$20,000 from Mr. Barry as a kickback to arrange the 1996 deal. Both men face the same charges, and deny any wrongdoing.

In 1994, prison officials in Texas began looking for ways to cut costs out of the prison system and decided to add soy to the menu.

The state entered into a pilot US$62,000 deal with VitaPro, founded in 1989 by Mr. Barry, a one-time lead singer for rock group The Kingsmen, famous for the hit Louie Louie.

Soon, state politicians were glowing about the prospects for expanding the use of soybean products in the system, despite complaints by inmates the product tasted awful and caused excessive gas.

"That's too bad if they don't like it," George W. Bush, then Texas governor, said at the time.

"I have very little sympathy for them."

Mr. Barry had a colourful past, including stints as a producer for musical acts AC/DC, Tom Jones and Gary Bonds. He is a reformed drug user, convicted extortionist and former professional sports manager.

Mr. Barry, 53, whose original name is Gerard Barry Falovitch (Yank is short for Yankel, his Yiddish name), got into the soy business after buying the rights to the meat replacement formula during a trip to South Africa for a golf tournament. He returned to Montreal and founded two companies, VitaPro and Global Village Market, which sells the soya products through a network of home-based distributors.

Mr. Barry scored worldwide headlines and glowing mentions after Muhammad Ali agreed to promote VitaPro in a series of trips around the world to give away the product to starving children through his Global Village Champions Foundation.

"I've got a guy in my corner named Yank Barry," Mr. Ali says in a promotional note on VitaPro's Web site. "He's a great man with a great product -- VitaPro -- a product that can help us achieve our goals in a sane, sustainable way."

Mr. Barry's private companies, which don't release sales figures, claim to have donated 260 million meals to date.

A year after the initial deal between VitaPro and Texas, Mr. Collins negotiated a US$33.7-million, five-year extension that included a scheme to buy VitaPro product, use Texan prison labour to repackage it, then resell the meat replacement to other prison systems.

But Mr. Collins resigned in 1995 after Mr. Bush called for an investigation into his business dealings. At the time stories began appearing that Mr. Collins had formed a private prison management company, and his name appeared in a prospectus for a company owned by a business associate touting his experience in the Texas prison system.

After quitting his US$120,000 a year job, Mr. Collins went to work for VitaPro as a consultant, earning $1,000 a day. Company vice-president Jason Taite acknowledges the company engaged Mr. Collins' services and paid him $20,000 to sell VitaPro products to other prison systems.

"Obviously no one knows how to cut through the red tape better than the man who lived behind the tape for so many years," Mr. Taite said in an interview yesterday.

But prosecutors will argue the deal was sealed before Mr. Collins stepped down at the end of 1995. The trial will likely turn on whether the jury believes claims by Mr. Collins and Mr. Barry that they entered into the deal after Mr. Collins had left his government job.

"He was paid $20,000 by cheque, not in a suitcase," Mr. Taite said. "He was not employed [by the state] otherwise we wouldn't have been able to hire him."

Mr. Barry, who is now a resident of the Bahamas, was in court and could not be reached for comment.

The original deal has since been voided by Texas Supreme Court, which in December, 1999, upheld a 1996 district court ruling that the contract violated state purchasing procedures because it wasn't subject to competitive bids. The Supreme Court also ruled the state didn't have to pay anything beyond the US$3.3-million that had already changed hands. Prison officials stopped serving VitaPro to prisoners in mid-1996, feeding the remaining product to hogs at the prison systems' farms.

So much for compassionate conservatism!!

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