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| Courts |

Judge Thinks Sending Tom Corea to Cushy Rehab 20 Miles from Mexico Isn't a Very Good Idea

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The last time Tom Corea was in Judge Michael Snipes' Dallas County courtroom, he had just finished trashing his former Design District office and drawing amateurish penis graffiti on the walls in permanent marker. For that, Snipes revoked Corea's bond and sent him back to jail.

Corea, who stands accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his clients, was back in court today where his new defense attorney, John Helms, asked Snipes to reconsider.

Corea has a drug problem, having developed an addiction to Klonopin, an anxiety drug in the same family as Xanax, Helms explained during today's bond hearing. It's something Corea is ready to deal with, having already been accepted to Lone Star Victory Ranch, a drug rehab program in Harlingen. Helms asked that Snipes consider releasing Corea pending trial on the condition that he stay in the treatment program.

That set up the testimony by Joseph Sauceda, Lone Star's executive director, whom Snipes called and put on speakerphone. At Helms' prompting, Saucedo described the operation. Lone Star sits on 17.5 acres in South Texas, surrounded by fields of cotton, wheat and sugar cane. The program, which can treat 24 people at a time, lasts three to six months, with the first part devoted to helping patients -- Sauceda referred to them as "students" -- through withdrawal with healthy doses of vitamins and minerals to help restore normal brain chemistry. The second phase is devoted to teaching life skills. Sauceda put the two-year success rate is somewhere between 75 and 78 percent.

In its eight-and-a-half year history, Lone Star has treated three individuals who had been locked up on drug charges, all of them federal. Sauceda said the facility had no problems with security, monitoring patients' ankle bracelets or with enforcing the rules set by the court. He expected no trouble enforcing the conditions of Corea's release.

In short, Helms argued, Lone Star is a place where Corea can be treated for a serious substance abuse problem while also ensuring that he's "not going to have the opportunity to go around trashing offices and threatening people."

Jacob Harris, the prosecutor in the case, had some questions of his own. Did the facility have armed guards? Was it surrounded by a fence? Did Lone Star, which sits about 20 minutes north of the Mexican border, know that Corea was carrying his passport when he was first arrested? Had Saucedo ever met or spoken to Corea? The answer to each of those questions was "no," though Saucedo said he believed a staff member had interviewed either Corea or a family member.

Harris then asked how much Corea had paid for the program. Saucedo said he wasn't sure exactly -- such things are handled by a corporate office in California -- but that it would have to be at least half of the $33,000 tuition.

"Are you aware of where Mr. Corea got that money?" Harris asked, incredulous. "Are you aware of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he [stole] from his victims?" That's about when Snipes cut him off, sustaining a pair of objections from Helms that the questions were straying from the question at hand.

In his closing statement, Harris argued that Corea is a narcissist who had perpetrated "one of the worst cases of legal malfeasance in the history of the county." Lone Star is essentially a med spa; sending Corea there would be unfair to the crack- and cocaine-addicted inmates in Lew Sterrett who lack access to high-dollar treatment programs, not to mention an insult to Corea's alleged victims. Helms reiterated that the program would give Corea the opportunity to deal with his drug problems at little risk to the county.

Snipes sided with Harris. The destruction of the office was an insult to the court and proof that Corea couldn't be trusted to abide by the court's orders, Snipes said. He opted not to lift the bond and ordered Corea back to jail. As for a trial, that will have to wait until Helms has time to prepare; he was only retained a few days ago.

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