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Travis County DA to investigate Double Dip Driver

The Republican wave helped him survive re-election this year, but State Rep. Joe Driver’s troubles aren’t over just yet.

Assistant District Attorney Gregg Cox, head of the public integrity unit, which oversees official corruption cases, said Tuesday that prosecutors had begun reviewing the travel practices of Rep. Joe Driver before the November elections. Now that the elections are over, that review has turned into an active criminal investigation, Cox said.

“We were presented a complaint that appeared to be sufficient to require additional investigation to determine whether or not the law was violated,” Cox said. “Now that the election has passed, the review, and the investigation, is taking place.”

Driver, a Garland Republican who was re-elected to his 10th two-year term, has acknowledged that for years he collected reimbursements from taxpayers for travel he already had paid for using donated campaign money. He paid for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals and conference registration fees with campaign funds and then submitted receipts for those same expenses to the state.

Driver said he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong, but he reimbursed his campaign $49,426 after the AP revealed the double dipping.

It’s a pretty high bar to clear to be worthy of an indictment, but if Driver really was dumb enough to think what he was doing wasn’t wrong, the odds are good he did something dumb enough to get nailed for. And he may have company in the dock, thanks to similar transgressions committed by House GOP Caucus Chair Larry Taylor.

Because lawmakers are not required to disclose travel expense reimbursements, Taylor acknowledged his handling of expenses could look bad. He said he always repays his campaign account after the state reimbursement arrives, and he produced bank statements to back up his claim.

An ethics watchdog, however, filed a complaint against Taylor with the Travis County district attorney last week, questioning the lawmaker’s online bank statements.

According to the complaint filed by Dave Palmer, a California-based ethics watchdog, Taylor has used his campaign/officeholder account to pay for $31,952 worth of travel expenses, including 90 airfares, 12 hotel bills, 5 conference registration fees and a car rental – all of which Taylor also billed to the state. The Houston Chronicle independently verified more than 80 of the airfares that showed up on both Taylor’s campaign expense account and in state vouchers for reimbursement since 2005.

Don’t be surprised if there are others like Driver and Taylor out there, too. Greg has more.

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