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Posted: 12/24/2008 4:45:54 AM EDT
Money for future Dallas DNA testing lost in Madoff scandal

07:07 AM CST on Wednesday, December 24, 2008
By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News
[email protected]

Panic ensued at the Innocence Project of Texas when a powerful Wall Street investor was arrested this month and accused of swindling investors out of $50 billion.

One of the organizations that had invested with Bernard Madoff was the JEHT Foundation, which funds post-conviction DNA tests for Dallas County inmates who claim they are innocent. Without the funding, the Innocence Project would be faced with trying to raise capital in a bad economy and those seeking tests could face indefinite delays, if the testing could be done at all.

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But after a few days of concern, Innocence Project officials realized the money received so far – about $400,000 – was theirs to keep, said the organization's executive director Natalie Roetzel. And while additional money promised for computers, staff and investigations won't make its way to the Innocence Project, Ms. Roetzel said, "I think it's going to turn out OK."

Both Ms. Roetzel and Dallas County First Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore said there probably are enough funds to complete all the DNA testing. If not, Ms. Roetzel said, they will seek other grants and hold private fundraisers.

"The money should get us through what needs to be tested," said Ms. Moore.

Mr. Madoff is accused of losing billions by creating a Ponzi scheme to defraud investors. In such a scheme, money is paid to current investors with the funds of new investors. Typically, there isn't any real profit.

Because of the fallout from Mr. Madoff's alleged scam, foundations and nonprofits all over the country are financially pressed. Many were already struggling to raise funds, and the combination of a tough economy and the loss of funds invested with Mr. Madoff makes it even harder.

The JEHT Foundation – which donates funds to programs that promote justice, equality, human dignity and tolerance – will close in January.

The Dallas County district attorney's office partnered with the Innocence Project of Texas in 2007 to examine post-conviction DNA tests that had been previously denied. About half the requests have been examined now, although not all who request testing will receive it.

With 19 exonerations because of DNA testing, Dallas County has more such exonerations than any other jurisdiction in the nation since state law began allowing post-conviction testing in 2001.

Had the foundation not been closing, it probably would have given more money to fund Dallas County programs. Just before Mr. Madoff's arrest, the JEHT Foundation was in talks with Dallas County to give as much as $15 million to fund programs with the district attorney's office and the probation department.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said the talks had not advanced to specifics but said the foundation was committed to giving more money.

"That hurt," said Mr. Watkins. "That hurt."
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