By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Sorrells says he spoke to a sheriff's deputy whose name he cannot recall on the same day he marked the case file with new orders. That was February 10, five days after the sentencing, the records show.
Sorrells says the deputy told him that Max was the son of a big campaign contributor who was unpopular with deputies in the jail. He recalls being told there had been death threats by the deputies against the son.
The judge says the deputy told him that Max's safety could not be guaranteed in Tarrant County, so he was being transferred to Wise County. Sorrells also remembers the deputy telling him that Max was a good mechanic, and that the Wise County sheriff's department had work for him to do. "My concern was that he serve his time in jail, not out," the judge says. "I took their word that there was a problem keeping him in the Tarrant County jail."
Tom Wilder, who took it upon himself to explain the sheriff's actions, insists, "There's nothing there.
"There was a security problem because of Gary and the Max family name. The judge was concerned whether he would be in danger," Wilder says.
But Sorrells says that was not what happened at all. "It sure wasn't my idea."
Wise County Sheriff Phil Ryan recalls that Hank Pope, Williams' chief deputy, called him and said "they didn't feel comfortable housing him [Max] in their jail. He said there was some anti-sheriff movement around within the department."
Ryan says trusties in his jail are awarded two days' credit for each day served. Max must have been made a trusty his first day in jail, because he did his 100 days in exactly 50--and didn't even check in on the first day until 1 p.m. Furthermore, public records in Tarrant County make no mention of Max's road trip, and suggest he served his time in Tarrant County.
Why a jail that houses capital murderers and other notorious defendants would need to transfer a prisoner doing time for DWI certainly raises questions. Ryan says he has housed other Tarrant County prisoners in the past but could name only one: a skinhead murder suspect whose light sentence prompted 10,000 people to march through downtown Fort Worth in 1992.
Ryan says that he is a stockholder in Discount Auto Parts Exchange, Max's north Fort Worth location, and the two have been friends for years.
Gary Max could not be reached for comment, but his father, who agreed to answer questions in his office on the second floor of his North Freeway store, insists he had nothing to do with the way his son was treated.
"Let me tell you about my deal with Gary. I've never made his bond, never put him in jail, or got him out of jail," he said, standing in his big, dreary office, a place with grease-stained carpet and piles of plastic binders on the desks.
Asked if he and chief deputy Pope discussed the transfer, Max replied, "I think we had a little discussion on it. He recommended it. He was uneasy about discontentment in the department over me."
Oddly, Max referred a number of questions directed at him during the interview to his business partner Philip Byrd.
Both say they have had very little to do with the sheriff over much of his second term--an assessment disputed by deputies who have seen Pope's car or Williams' car at Max's shop many times during that period.
Byrd may claim to have little connection with the sheriff now, but a year ago Williams gave him about $5,000 worth of helicopter pilot's training, gratis, as part of the department's ill-fated helicopter program. Two former department employees say it was a reward for Byrd's work on Williams' 1996 campaign, and an example of the good ol' boy back-scratching that goes on in Williams' regime.
Four men--three deputies and Byrd, who has no official connection to the county or sheriff's department--went through the weeklong Bell Helicopter program last year, which the Fort Worth-based company donated to the county. The training for all four was valued at $24,000, one former deputy said.
Byrd, asked this week why he was due the pilot's training, said he was picked as a "civilian observer."
"I'm into aviation," he explained. "I do a lot of flying."
Byrd ended up doing most of the talking when questions turned to the minivan that Williams bought midway through his first term from Alvarado-based Exchange Auto, another of Max's businesses.
According to title records, Williams and his wife purchased the 2-year-old Dodge Caravan SE for $2,500 on November 4, 1994. The records show that Exchange purchased the vehicle from Allstate Central Salvage in Irving in April 1993.
A customer originally purchased the van from a North Richland Hills Dodge dealership in August 1992 for $18,041. It was in a wreck in early 1993--when it had less than 2,000 miles on it--and totaled by the insurance company. Exchange Auto bought it for an undisclosed sum, rebuilt it--reporting in title documents that it replaced the fenders, hood, grill, and radiator, and repaired the air conditioning system--and the next year sold it to the Williamses.