Dozens of law enforcement officers simultaneously raided multiple law offices and two chiropractic clinics Monday morning for their alleged involvement in a kickback scheme to sign up clients, according to an I-Team review of court records.
In all, arrest warrants were issued for eight Houston-area lawyers, including State Representative Ron Reynolds. They are charged with barratry, commonly known as “ambulance chasing,” a third degree felony punishable by up to ten years in prison a $10,000 fine.
Reynolds and the other attorneys are accused of paying kickbacks to Robert Valdez, the alleged ringleader of the operation. Prosecutors said Valdez routinely scour accident reports, then approach and aggressively persuade crash victims to sign contracts for legal representation.
“We have information from a confidential informant, that Ron Reynolds delivered cash in envelopes to Mr. Valdez, in exchange for referring clients to him on numerous occasions,” said Phil Grant, First Assistant Montgomery County District Attorney.
Reynolds faced the same charge in Harris County last summer, but the case was dropped after the lead investigator faced some personal legal troubles that potentially tainted the case.
“It appears that Representative Reynolds stepped away from this organization during the period of time he was charged in Harris County,” Grant said.
“After his case was dismissed, it appears that he got right back in,” he said.
Montgomery County prosecutors picked up the case because Valdez is a resident, and a confidential informant there provided extensive documentation of the alleged scheme. Grant said records indicate a simple fender would fetch $600 in kickbacks, while a commercial vehicle accident commanded $6000 or more. Additionally, Valdez is accused of steering patients to two chiropractic clinics in Northeast Houston, which he partially owned.
“He was working both ends of the scheme,” Grant said. “He was getting kickbacks allegedly from the attorneys, but he was also making a lucrative amount of money from trumping up medical treatments for individuals who had been in car accidents.”
There’s video at that link, and there’s more from the Chron. As noted, the previous indictment against Rep. Reynolds was dropped in February after an investigator in the Harris County DA’s office that had been assigned to Reynolds’ case was arrested and charged with stealing collectible comic books that had been evidence in another case. The Harris County DA’s office has been eliminating evidence that had been discovered by that investigator and another that was arrested and dropping charges in cases where insufficient evidence remained; Rep. Reynolds’ case was the first to be dismissed because of this. Via his Facebook page, Rep. Reynolds put out this statement:
“This warrant and inquiry comes on the heels of my clearance from barratry charges in Harris County, and my office is fully cooperating with investigators regarding this matter as well,” said Rep. Reynolds. “I will fight diligently to prove my innocence.”
Strictly speaking, he wasn’t cleared – the charges were dismissed due to a lack of untainted evidence against him. Rep. Reynolds remains innocent until proven guilty, and I hope these charges turn out to be unfounded, but good Lord this looks bad. I’ve met Rep. Reynolds, I like him personally and I wish him luck in defending himself, but regardless of the outcome in this case, someone needs to provide the voters of HD27 an alternative choice in the next Democratic primary.