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Abbott’s CPRIT problem

Expect to hear a lot about this.

A Travis County grand jury has indicted Jerry Cobbs, a former high-ranking official with the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, on charges that he unlawfully secured the execution of an $11 million grant for Peloton Therapeutics, a Dallas-based biotechnology firm.

The Travis County Public Integrity Unit opened an investigation into former CPRIT officials shortly after the CPRIT Oversight Committee disclosed in November 2012 that the institute had awarded that grant without proper scientific review.

Cobbs served as the institute’s chief commercialization officer for three years, before resigning that month. In that role, he was responsible for presenting the Peloton grant to the Oversight Board for approval. Given the amount of the grant, and the allegations that Cobbs failed to disclose that it had not gone through the required review process, he is being charged with a first-degree felony punishable by five to 99 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine. He turned himself in this morning and was released on an $85,000 bond, according to the Public Integrity Unit’s Gregg Cox.

Glenn Smith, director of the liberal Progress Texas PAC and filer of the criminal complaint against CPRIT, released a statement saying that “those responsible for the corruption at CPRIT are being brought to justice.” He said questions remain about the members of the Oversight Board responsible for approving the grant — including GOP gubernatorial candidate and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and outgoing Comptroller Susan Combs.

“The indictment of a former CPRIT official confirms that Greg Abbott has betrayed Texas taxpayers by failing to show up to even one CPRIT oversight board meeting,” state Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said in a statement. “Greg Abbott has yet to fully explain why he failed in his basic oversight responsibilities to Texas taxpayers.”

More from Texas Politics.

Democrats are using Friday’s announcement that Travis County prosecutors are pursuing felony charges in their now-concluded CPRIT investigation to blast Republican gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott, who sat on the board of the troubled state cancer agency.

It’s not the first time that Abbott’s role in failing to maintain a critical eye on the state cancer agency has surfaced. But Friday’s news that Jerry Cobbs, a former top official of the state cancer agency, had been indicted provided fresh attack fodder for Abbott’s opponents in the middle of a heated gubernatorial race.


Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Will Hailer also pounced on Friday’s news.

“The elephant that remains in the room is how Attorney General Abbott sat on the CPRIT board and was complicit as these illegal acts took place,” said Hailer. “Abbott has proven his tendency to avoid clear statements and clarification about his work and positions. But Texans deserve to know how such corruption occurred as Greg Abbott was supposed to oversee the process. It is time for answers.”

See here for some background. Abbott is vulnerable on two fronts here. One is that he basically never attended CPRIT board meetings, thus falling down on the oversight job. He has some excuses but that’s really all they are, and they don’t sound so good in the context of all the problems CPRIT has had, problems that might have been averted if those that were responsible for overseeing its actions had actually done their jobs. On a more general note, this is another way to tie Abbott to Rick Perry and his reign of cronyism. Abbott has been Perry’s right hand man all along, and despite his attempts to put some space between himself and Perry on a few issues, the fact is that Abbott would represent very little change from Perry. Part of Wendy Davis’ job is to convince people that if they’d had enough of Perry, swapping him out for Abbott isn’t going to make much difference. Fortunately for her, Abbott is helping her make that case. Progress Texas and PDiddie have more.

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  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Perhaps the state of Texas shouldn’t be in the position of handing out grants like this in the first place? That would certainly eliminate even the appearance of impropriety by our elected leaders. If the state absolutely MUST spend taxpayer money on cancer research, perhaps it should only go to non profits. Considering the state of Texas’ highways, though, I’d rather just see the state use that money to fix or build a few highways. I don’t recall curing cancer being a basic duty of the state. Roads, on the other hand, ARE a basic duty.

    The whole thing reminds me of the no bid contract to the Canadian company that botched the ObamaCare website, or Bush’s no-bid Halliburton contracts. Crony capitalism is right. If this turns out to be as described, it should hang around Abbott like a boat anchor. If. I’ll wait to see how it shakes out before I reserve final judgment.

  2. Bayard Rustin says:

    I can’t quite believe it but I’m in agreement with Bill Daniels. Let’s add Rick Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund as an example crony capitalism.