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Stockman trial update

From Tuesday:

Best newspaper graphic ever

“This case is the story of how the defendant over the course of four years exploited the trust and charity of others to pull off a massive scam,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Heberle, of the Justice Department’s public integrity division, told jurors during opening statements in the federal corruption trial.

“It is the story of a man who thinks that the rules are for other people,” Heberle said. “And it is the story of how, dollar by dollar, investigators followed the money and unraveled the defendant’s fraud scheme.”

Heberle said Stockman pulled off the scheme by cheating federal election law, lying to donors and blaming mistakes on his staff.

Heberle outlined several major donations Stockman, a trained accountant, solicited on behalf of charitable groups he was involved in, and said the evidence would show that with the help of two aides, Stockman quickly moved that money from one account to another and spent it to cover personal and campaign expenses.

Defense attorney Sean Buckley, however, had a drastically different take on the same series of financial transactions.

“The core is question of whether Mr. Stockman lied with the intent to steal money” from two major donors, Buckley said.

Buckley described his client as a scrappy, naive and idealistic outsider who lost track of his finances.

See here for the previous update. Just as a reminder, that “scrappy, naive outsider” was first elected to Congress in 1994, and the crimes he is accused of stem from his 2012 House campaign and his unsuccessful 2014 primary bid against Sen. John Cornyn. That’s an awfully long time to remain naive.

From Wednesday:

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman and two aides used a major charitable donation to a cover credit card debt, two spots at a Christian summer camp, a friend’s stint in rehab and a funeral for employee’s wife, according to testimony Wednesday from an FBI agent at Stockman’s federal fraud trial in Houston.

But they didn’t spend any of the $350,000 gift — as Stockman had promised he would at a pitch meeting with a conservative Midwestern mega-donor — on the renovation of a house near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to be used as living quarters and a training facility for young conservatives.

A series of witnesses called by federal prosecutors in the second day of Stockman’s corruption trial traced the path of that $350,000 donation, testifying that Stockman and his associates spent it on an extensive array of expenses, which the donor said he never meant to cover.

[…]

[Conservative megadonor Richard] Uihlein said after spending less than an hour meeting with Stockman at his corporate offices in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. on Jan. 24, 2013, he wrote a check from the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation to the newly elected representative’s charitable foundation for $350,000.

One month prior, at the urging of Larry Pratt, CEO and founder of Gun Owners of America, Uihlein had donated $5,000 to help pay for a group of home-schooled children to be in Washington for Stockman’s swearing in ceremony.

And a year after he made the Freedom House donation, Uihlein would write a $450,000 check to cover a mailing in Stockman’s unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the Republican Primary, court records in the case show.

And now the GOP legislator and an aide, Thomas Dodd, had arrived with an impressive brochure about Freedom House and asked for money to create their training center for young congressional interns. Uihlein, the CEO of a moving supplies empire, said he liked the idea of helping cover the house’s renovation.

“I felt they were trustworthy,” Uihlein told the jury, under questioning from a federal prosecutor. “And I trusted that they would spend the money the way they said.”

He said he understood from the brochure that Stockman was soliciting the money for a charitable cause through a 501c3 organization, and stressed he would not have given it if he knew it would be spent on the former lawmaker’s personal and campaign costs.

This post has more about the Stockman/Uihlein relationship. Uihlein may have been duped, but he’s far from innocent, or sympathetic. As for Stockman, his defense is to blame everything on the two former aides that have since taken plea deals for their actions in this saga. One of those aides, Jason Posey, has been an associate of Stockman’s since his first Congressional term in the 90’s. Like I said, that’s an awfully long time to remain naive. The prosecution still has more to present, and then we get to the defense, which ought to be amazing. Stay tuned.

Steve Stockman’s trial has begun

Hope you have your popcorn ready.

Best newspaper graphic ever

A year after he was charged with running a wide-ranging scheme to divert charitable donations to pay for campaign and personal expenses, former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman is scheduled to begin a month-long trial Monday in a Houston federal courtroom.

Jurors could hear testimony in Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s courtroom from about 75 witnesses and sift through thousands of pages of evidence in what prosecutors have characterized as a “white-collar crime spree,” according to court documents.

[…]

“The evidence at trial will show that over a four-year period (Stockman) used a series of sham nonprofit entities to raise over $1 million in fraudulent donations,” according to trial brief filed recently by Justice Department prosecutor Ryan Ellersick, who alleged the former congressman “funneled the fraud proceeds through a web of shell bank accounts before ultimately using the funds to pay for personal expenses and to illegally finance his campaign for federal office.”

Stockman, 61, a resident of Clear Lake, faces 28 criminal counts, including allegations of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission, making excessive campaign contributions, money laundering and filing a false tax return.

Stockman’s lawyer, Sean Buckley, said he expects his client to be fully vindicated. He plans to argue that the upstart lawmaker, who opposed big government and failed to unseat Sen. John Cornyn in the 2014 Republican primary, did nothing intentionally wrong.

“We are absolutely adamant that he didn’t intend to defraud donors or anyone else,” Buckley said. “There’s no allegation of an extravagant lifestyle. He was always one step away from the poverty line.”

See here for the previous update. Gotta love the “I didn’t mean it!” defense. Jury selection is underway. I’ll be checking in periodically as we go.

Stockman’s trial set to start

Get ready.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman stood before a federal judge in a mostly empty Houston courtroom Friday and confirmed he wants a jury to decide if he diverted nearly $1.25 million in charitable donations intended for conservative organizations.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal first determined that he had not entered into plea negotiations with federal prosecutors, and then asked, “Mr. Stockman, I assume you want to go to trial?”

“Yes, your honor,” he replied.

Stockman, whose trial is now set for March 19, has been free on $25,000 unsecured bond. The judge made a point to insist that he be present in court for the entire proceeding. He assured her he would.

[…]

Defense attorney Sean Buckley said his client is confident and he’s ready to address and refute the allegations.

“As they always say, there are two sides to every story and there are most certainly two sides to this one,” Buckley said.

Buckley said he plans to argue that the two aides pleaded guilty to better their own situations, not because they or Stockman are guilty or did anything wrong.

See here for some background. The aides in question are Jason Posey and Thomas Dodd, both of whom have already taken pleas. Stockman’s trial was supposed to have started in January, after having been delayed from June of last year. This time it looks like it may finally get going. I can’t wait.

Paxton and Paxton, Inc

How exactly is this not a conflict of interest?

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s political campaign guaranteed a $2 million loan to help his wife fuel her bid for a state Senate seat in North Texas.

The Bank of the Ozarks loaned the money to Angela Paxton, a Collin County Republican, with the help of Ken Paxton’s campaign operating as a guarantor, according to the attorney general’s campaign spokesman. That means if Paxton’s wife’s campaign cannot pay the loan back, Ken Paxton’s campaign is responsible for paying off the debt.

“Attorney General Paxton is confident she is going to win and her campaign will be able to pay back the loan with interest,” said Matt Welch, a spokesman for the attorney general’s campaign.

Angela, a former guidance counselor, is running for Senate District 8, which sits north of Dallas. In the March 6 Republican primary election, she is running against Phillip Huffines, a former Dallas County GOP chairman and twin brother of Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

[…]

Justin Nelson, an Austin lawyer and Democrat, is running against him in the general election. Nelson’s campaign scoffed at the attorney general’s move to back the loan as “shocking but not surprising.

“This loan emphasizes the corruption of the political class. It’s not normal for the attorney general’s campaign to lend his wife’s campaign $2 million. It’s wrong,” said Nate Walker, Nelson’s campaign manager.

I mean, a bank loaning a couple million dollars to the chief law enforcement officer of the state to help with his wife’s campaign couldn’t possibly cause any ethical concerns, right? And while I’m sure the Paxton’s believe that God will provide for their lifestyle forever, what do you think might happen if Ken Paxton loses in November, or if he gets convicted before then? It may be a tad bit hard to raise that money to pay the bank back, especially if busking for his legal defense fund becomes a top priority. I might be a little peeved about this if I were a depositor at that bank. Oh, and as the Huffines campaign pointed out, if you had previously donated to Ken Paxton and you support Phillip Huffines in SD08, congratulations – your donation just help subsidize his opponent. Not like my heart is breaking for Phillip Huffines or any of his backers – you knew, or should have known, that Ken Paxton has the moral compass of a lesser Borgia family member – but this stuff does actually matter. And willingly or not, we’re all now soaking in it.

The price of disrespect

Greg Abbott makes another endorsement.

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday endorsed the Republican challenger to Galveston state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, a move that is expected to deepen simmering divisions within the state Republican party.

In a new video, Abbott called Mayes Middleton a “principled conservative — a conservative who will be a tireless advocate for his constituents.”

“In the next legislative session, we have an opportunity to continue to pass reforms that make Texas even better,” Abbott said. “To do this, we need leaders who will work with me to advance a conservative agenda that will benefit every Texans our great state. That is why I am endorsing Mayes Middleton for state representative.”

Middleton is an oil and gas businessman and rancher from Chambers County and is a board member of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Abbott’s endorsement of Middleton is his second of a GOP primary challenger to a Republican incumbent running for reelection to the Texas House. In November, he endorsed Houston businesswoman Susanna Dokupil, who is challenging state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place.

Like Campos, you may be wondering what’s up with that. Faircloth has no reputation as a Joe Straus/Sarah Davis “moderate”, and he hasn’t gone all maverick-y on bathroom bills or toll roads or whatever else. He’s basically a standard-issue Republican, more “conservative” than average by the Mark Jones method, at least in the last session. What does Greg Abbott have against him?

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not cynical enough.

Abbott started the week by endorsing Mayes Middleton, a conservative who until last year served on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, over state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, who irked the governor’s circle by supporting a ban on “pay for play” gubernatorial appointments of big political donors.

So there you have it. Don’t get between Greg Abbott and his sugar daddies. Greg Abbott will cut you.

Stockman aide takes a plea

The walls are closing in.

Best newspaper graphic ever

A longtime confidant and aide to former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman pleaded guilty to Wednesday to fraud charges in a corruption scheme that also targeted the former congressman. The alleged scheme involved diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars — meant as contributions from conservative foundations — to fund political campaigns and cover personal expenses.

Jason T. Posey, a former campaign treasurer for Stockman, pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal to one count each of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. The government will presumably dismiss nearly a dozen additional charges and seek a reduced sentence if Posey agrees to cooperate with the government at Stockman’s trial.
He faces up to 45 years in federal prison and a fine of more than $4.8 million plus hundred of thousands of dollars in restitution, Rosenthal said. She set sentencing for Mar. 29.

He remains free on bond.

“My guy was a player, but he’s not the only player involved,” said Posey’s lawyer Phil Hilder. He accepted responsibility for his misdeeds and is prepared to cooperate, Hilder said.

[…]

[Stockman defense attorney Sean] Buckley said this week he believes that Posey and Dodd operated outside of Washington, D.C., on various political and non-profit projects that Stockman knew little about. The defense attorney contends his client trusted the pair to use contributions they received for the proper purposes.

“I will say that the evidence will show that Steve Stockman did not defraud any donors. He spent the funds in a way that he thought were in furthered the donors’ intentions. To the extent that (funds were diverted) he was either unaware of it or he misunderstood it,” Buckley said.

Stockman has said told the court he is innocent and a victim of a deep state conspiracy.

Buckley said he expects Posey to provide information against his former boss and mentor. Dodd has already pleaded guilty to two related conspiracy charges and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Hilder, who represents Posey, said, “I do not know what a ‘deep state conspiracy’ is, but I do know what constitutes a criminal conspiracy.”

“Mr. Posey freely and voluntarily admits being involved in criminal activity that is the subject of the indictment,” he said. “By pleading guilty at this stage of the proceedings, Mr. Posey accepts his responsibility for his misdeeds and seeks to move forward becoming a productive member of society.”

See here for a good overview of this saga. Jason Posey returned to the US from abroad back in May, and I presume has been talking to the feds for some time. Another former Stockman aide, Thomas Dodd, pleaded guilty in March to two related conspiracy charges and has already agreed to testify. The trial, originally set for September, will begin January 29. Get your popcorn ready, this is going to be amazing.

Ethics, schmethics

This little exchange says so much about our weak and insecure Governor.

Rep. Sarah Davis

The fireworks began with a press conference called by GOP Rep. Sarah Davis, chair of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics. Davis, flanked by both Democratic and Republican members of the committee, noted that Abbott had made ethics reform an “emergency” priority in the past two regular sessions. Though it’s not currently on the agenda for the special session this summer, she said the need for reform is greater than ever.

As an example, the Houston-area Republican said she is moving forward this week with ethics legislation — including a bill that would close a major loophole allowing state lawmakers during special sessions to hit up contributors for campaign cash at the same time they’re considering legislation that could affect those donors’ interests.

“I think we need to go ahead and close that loophole,” Davis said.

Such fundraising is illegal during regular sessions, under the theory that lawmakers shouldn’t be simultaneously casting votes and taking campaign money. But there is no such ban during these 30-day special sessions called by the governor. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, have voluntarily pledged not to fundraise during this summer’s special session, but Abbott continues to seek donations in email solicitations.

Davis was joined by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who took a more direct slap at the governor. He said he is again pushing a bill attacking what he calls a “pay for play” system in the governor’s office when it comes to appointments to state boards and commissions.

Larson’s legislation would limit the amount of money an appointee could give a governor. Donors who give more than $2,500 would be ineligible to serve, though Larson said he’s considering raising the amount to $5,000 and putting the effective date as 2022 in a bid to garner Abbott’s support.

Larson said donors who give amounts well into six figures can receive the most prestigious appointments — such as spots on a major university’s board of regents. He said Abbott and his predecessors, both Republican and Democratic, have used appointments to attract huge sums for their campaigns.

“I think it’s imperative that if we control both the legislative and the executive branch of government that we should reform the most egregious ethics violations we’ve got in the state, and that’s where people have to pay large sums of money to get appointed to highly coveted seats,” Larson said.

Speaker Straus agrees with Reps. Davis and Larson. What about Greg Abbott?

Abbott spokesman John Wittman, minutes after the press conference concluded, blasted the two lawmakers in a written statement.

“Instead of working to advance items on the special session agenda that could reform property taxes, fix school finance, increase teacher pay and reduce regulations, Reps. Davis and Larson are showboating over proposals that are not on the Governor’s call,” Wittman said. “Their constituents deserve better.”

So very touchy. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that these proposals are perfectly reasonable on their merits and focus on the fact that Greg Abbott, who controls the special session agenda, says we can’t talk about them until the Lege passes the entire 20-item agenda he has already laid out. Which means that Abbott is saying that his bizarre obsession with trees and his insistence on overriding all kinds of local ordinances is more important than ethics reform, which by the way was something that he had once labeled an “emergency” priority. I’d be hypersensitive about this, too.

Judicial Conduct commission suspends JP Hilary Green

Bam!

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday issued an order to suspend Harris County Justice of the Peace Hilary Green from office immediately based on allegations that Green illegally abused prescription drugs, sent sexually explicit texts to a bailiff while on the bench and paid for sex.

It’s the first time any Texas judge has received a temporary suspension in at least a decade in a contested matter, the commission says.

The state supreme court had been asked to take the unusual emergency action by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which in May presented a 316-page document in support of an immediate suspension. That document summarized evidence it had collected in its own investigations of previously secret complaints made against Green from 2012 to 2015.

The commission alleged that in its own closed proceedings, Green already had admitted to many allegations against her, including illegally obtaining prescription drugs and using marijuana and Ecstasy while she was presiding over low-level drug possession cases involving juveniles in her south Houston courtroom.

One of the most serious allegations, the commission says, is that Green engaged her “assigned bailiff in an effort to illegally obtain prescription drugs.”

The commission argued that the evidence — and Green’s own admissions — more than justified Green’s immediate removal from her post as a jurist for Harris County Precinct 7, Place 1 while the state watchdog agency prepared for a longer civil trial required under Texas law to remove Green — or any judge — from elected office.

“Judge Green’s outright betrayal of the public’s trust warrants her immediate suspension pending formal proceedings,” the commission had argued.

Green’s attorney, Chip Babcock, argued in a response to the supreme court that voters themselves had a chance to review and “forgive” many of the commission’s allegations, some of which were published in Houston Chronicle stories, before they chose to re-elect Green in 2017.

See here for the background, with the warning that the more you read the more you will want to take a shower afterwards. While a lot of this information was known before the 2016 primary, I’d argue that most, though not all, of it was allegations of behavior that was merely tawdry rather than illegal. As such, I disagree with attorney Babcock that the voters had a chance to “review and forgive” the record. But even if one believes that the voters were sufficiently informed, I don’t see how that mitigates against this suspension or the potential subsequent removal from office. Elections have consequences, but so does criminal behavior. If the Commission votes to remove Judge Green, she can appeal as the process allows, but appealing to the voters as a defense will fall flat to me.

We should all have friends like these

It’s like they say: Friends help you move. Real friends help you move dead bodies. Really real friends help pay for your criminal defense.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, nearly two years into his fight against state securities fraud charges, is continuing to get plenty of help from his friends to cover his soaring legal bills.

The Republican accepted nearly $218,000 in 2016 earmarked for his legal defense from “family friends” and others who Paxton says are exempted from state bribery laws that bar elected officials from receiving gifts from parties subject to their authority, according to a newly-released financial disclosure statement.

Those donations are on top of more than $329,000 Paxton accepted for the same cause in 2015.

Steven and Carrie Parsons of Dallas made last year’s biggest contribution, $75,000. They have also donated thousands of dollars to Paxton’s political campaign.

Alfred and Janet Gleason of Green Valley, Ariz. made the second biggest legal fund donation in 2016: $50,000, according to the filing. Ray and Ann Huffines also gave Paxton $10,000. Ray’s brother is state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

As attorney general, Paxton’s authority could extend broadly, so in his disclosure he cited an “independent relationship” exception that allows gifts from family members and those “independent” of an officeholder’s “official status.”

“All gifts for legal defense were conferred and accepted on account of a personal, professional, or business relationship independent of General Paxton’s official status,” Paxton’s disclosure form states.

In all, 15 people or couples chipped in for Paxton’s legal defense last year. And one entity called Annual Fund Inc. contributed $10,000. It funnels money to groups that make independent political expenditures — political action committees that can spend unlimited amounts of cash without disclosing where it came from. Annual Fund Inc, according to Bloomberg, primarily gives to a group called Citizens for the Republic, whose national chairman is conservative media personality Laura Ingraham.

Yeah, no possibility of conflict of interest in any of this. Move along, citizen, nothing to see here.

Former Stockman aide returns to US

The gang’s all here.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Federal agents quietly arrested Jason Posey, a former congressional aide who’d been wanted for two months on charges that he helped ex-U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman carry out a criminal conspiracy to bilk millionaire donors, violate elections laws, and illegally divert hundreds of thousands in campaign cash.

Posey and Stockman were both indicted March 28 on 28 federal charges including mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission, excessive campaign contributions and money laundering.

Stockman was arrested at the airport on his way out of the country by federal agents. But it appears government agents spent weeks negotiating with Posey – who’d been living abroad in the Middle East for more than two years.

Posey voluntarily returned to Houston to turn himself in on May 23, according to Philip Hilder, a Houston lawyer appointed to represent Posey.

“He voluntarily came back to the United States to face the allegations levied against him,” said Hilder, who is known for his work representing whistle-blowers and other witnesses and defendants in high-profile white-collar crime cases, including Enron.

In his recent federal court appearance, Posey pleaded not guilty to all 28 charges, according to federal court records. Stockman also pleaded not guilty.

[…]

Another former Stockman aide, Thomas Dodd, pleaded guilty in March to two related conspiracy charges and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

But in indictments, prosecutors describe Posey as Stockman’s primary accomplice . State and county business filings show that Posey set up some of the companies that federal prosecutors say were used to divert campaign contributions through suburban Houston post office boxes and an array of bank accounts.

See here for the background. As noted in that earlier post, Posey has been a close associate of Stockman’s for a long time. I can’t wait for this trial to get underway.

Culberson’s stock purchase

Interesting.

Rep. John Culberson

In a heated confirmation hearing for then-Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Democrats raised pointed questions about the congressman’s trading in stocks of companies regulated by the House committees he serves on.

One in particular, Innate Immunotherapeutics, a small Australian biotech firm, generated particular attention because it had sold nearly $1 million in discounted shares to two House members: Price and New York Republican Chris Collins, who turned out to be the firm’s biggest investor.

Amid the controversy in January, Price said everything he did was “ethical, aboveboard, legal and transparent,” though he agreed to divest himself of that and other stocks that could raise ethics questions.

Collins also denied any wrongdoing, though he is now reportedly being investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics for his role in touting the stock to investors from the halls of Congress.

But the public heat did not dissuade two Texas congressmen from quietly buying into the Australian company Jan. 26, two days after the Price hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, records show. John Culberson of Houston and Mike Conaway of Midland, are among at least seven Republican House members who have invested in the company. The two Texans bought in at what was then close to a 52-week peak in the stock price on the Australian Securities Exchange. The transactions were first reported by Politico.

[…]

Culberson’s stock buy, which he valued at between $1,000 and $15,000, was particularly unusual, because by the congressman’s own account, he is not an active stock trader.

Beside his stake in Innate Immunotherapeutics, his most recent financial reports to Congress list holdings in Apple stock and some past investments in “military collectibles.”

In a statement, Culberson offered this motive for the stock purchase in the fairly obscure foreign company that works to develop treatments for multiple sclerosis: “One of my father’s best friends died of MS, and we have a family friend with multiple sclerosis, so I’m always on the lookout for breakthroughs on treating MS. This one looks promising. I rarely buy or sell stock.”

He declined interview requests this week and staffers offered no details about the exact amount and timing of his stock purchase, which coincided with that of Conaway. Nor have they explained why Culberson waited until April 6 to report the stock buy, well beyond the 30-day window required to inform the House clerk’s office.

Through a spokeswoman, however, Culberson dismissed Democrats’ accusations that he might have used non-public information.

“Representative Culberson originally learned of the company through press reports,” his spokeswoman, Emily Taylor, said Thursday. “He continued his own research on their promising MS treatment, which is an issue important to him, and that led to the purchase.”

I don’t know how big a deal this is. The circumstances are fishy and Culberson’s explanation is weak, but unless Tom Price gets into a heap of trouble for his actions, I don’t see much happening to Culberson. That said, having stuff like this turn into blaring headlines seems to me to portend a rough campaign season. If nothing else, having all these candidates and a national focus on CD07 guarantees that every little thing will be news, and that’s not something Culberson has had to deal with lately. Better get used to it.

Judicial Conduct commission seeks suspension of JP Hilary Green

Holy moley.

In an explosive and rare move, Texas judicial authorities on Wednesday asked the Texas Supreme Court to suspend a Harris County justice of the peace accused of paying prostitutes for sex, misusing illegal drugs and ruling unethically in favor of a convicted con man.

The sordid list of accusations against Judge Hilary Green, Justice of the Peace in Houston’s 7th Precinct, was contained in a 316-page court filing by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to the state’s highest court.

The document describes four separate judicial misconduct complaints against Green made between 2012 and 2016 that were previously not released under commission rules.

In her response to the commission, Green admitted to many of the allegations, including illegally obtaining prescription drugs and using marijuana and ecstasy at the same time she was presiding over low-level drug possession cases involving minors in her court, the records show. She also admitted to sexting a bailiff while on the bench.

“Judge Green’s outright betrayal of the public’s trust warrants her immediate suspension pending formal proceedings,” the filing says.

The Texas Supreme Court has not yet taken action on the suspension request and there is no deadline for it to rule.

The commission filing confirms that the latest misconduct complaint against Green arrived in 2016 from a man who Green has admitted was her extramarital lover, Claude Barnes. Other allegations were made by Green’s ex-husband, former Houston Controller Ronald Green, as part of their divorce.

Green has not responded to the commission’s request she be suspended. But her attorney, Chip Babcock, said he plans to argue that Green cannot be removed from office for alleged misconduct that occurred prior to November 2016, when she was re-elected to office. He argues that her re-election occurred after most of the allegations against her were made public in articles in the Houston Chronicle, or by her opponents during the campaign.

In support of his argument, Babcock cited a Texas state law that says “an officer may not be removed … for an act the officer committed before election to office.”

Others have interpreted that statute to mean before a public official initially took office, which in Green’s case was in 2007.

But Babcock emphasized in an interview that allegations about Green’s illegal drug use and sexual misconduct came to light in 2015 and 2016 from “her ex-husband and an admittedly bitter and angry former companion.” Babcock said that during Green’s 2016 campaign, the bulk of the allegations against her “were aired publicly and after they were aired publicly, Judge Green ran in a contested Democratic Primary against a number of candidates opposing her and defeated them with a substantial amount of the vote and subsequently won the general election.”

There’s more, so read the whole thing, though if you’re like me you’ll feel a little dirty afterward. Some of what is in this story stems from Hilary and Ronald Green’s ugly and contentious divorce, and some of it was in the news prior to that. I have no idea what the State Commission on Judicial Conduct will do, and I don’t know enough to assess the legal merits of attorney Babcock’s defense strategy; for what it’s worth, it sounds sketchy to me, but again, I Am Not A Lawyer.

There will be a political effect from all this one way or another, maybe soon and maybe later depending on what the SCJC does. I don’t want to think too much about that right now. People often wonder in situations like this how someone with that kind of baggage can get elected. Voters vote based on the information they have, and having more information of this kind available to them doesn’t always have the effect one thinks that it might. Sometimes people file unsavory revelations about a candidate as “negative campaign stuff” and tune it out, and sometimes they decide that other factors in a given race are more important. Surely if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the 2016 election season it’s that the people will sometimes make confounding choices.

Stockman trial delayed

Alas.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman’s trial on federal corruption charges has been pushed back to next year.

The trial, originally scheduled to begin June 5, will now kick off on Jan. 29, 2018, according to an order issued Wednesday by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal.

Stockman’s lawyer had requested the delay last week, asking the judge to put off the trial until “at least January 2018.” The motion to push back the trial had been unopposed.

The lawyer, Richard Kuniansky, said he needed more time to review 142,378 pages of evidence, apparently gathered by the government over the past three and a half years. Kuniansky said he may need the help of a forensic accountant and paralegal.

See here for the background. The request is fair enough, as lawyer Kuniansky is new to the case. I think Stockman is guilty, guilty, guilty, but that’s my opinion and the man deserves a fair trial just like anyone else. Let his attorney get up to speed, we can wait till January.

Stockman trial date set

Mark your calendar.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman is set to go to trial June 5 on federal corruption charges.

Stockman, a Houston-area Republican, has pleaded not guilty to charges of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations to himself and his congressional campaign. He was arraigned Monday.

The trial is expected to last one month, according to a scheduling order filed Tuesday. Pretrial motions are due May 12 and responses two weeks later.

[…]

Stockman has cycled through a number of lawyers since his arrest last month. On Thursday, he was given a court-appointed attorney, Richard Kuniansky.

See here for the previous update. How long this actually takes will depend in large part on what happens with the pretrial motions. The Tom DeLay and Ken Paxton sagas were and are as drawn out as they were because the indictments were challenged in the pretrial hearing, and the trial judges’ rulings upholding them were then appealed. I don’t think that will be the case here – there’s nothing so far to suggest that the charges themselves are in any way a stretch – but you never know. If nothing interesting comes out of that, then expect the trial itself to be on the schedule suggested by the story.

Stockman pleads not guilty

And we’re off.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Standing tall, with his hands hanging loosely at his sides, former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman told a federal magistrate in Houston Monday he understood the criminal charges against him and pleaded not guilty to theft of about $800,000 in charitable donations intended for conservative organizations and associated charges.

Upon Stockman’s request, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson had appointed him a lawyer last week to be paid for by the government until he can land a job. Stockman said he needed to dismiss his hand-picked lawyers because he can’t work while under indictment: His job requires him to travel overseas, which is not permitted under his bond.

Stockman was indicted on 28 federal corruption charges. He said publicly that he expects to be fully vindicated. He is free on bond.

Robert J. Heberle, an attorney from the public integrity division of the Justice Department, told the magistrate Monday he anticipated the trial would last one month and as many as 40 to 50 witnesses could be called for the prosecution. Johnson encouraged the government to whittle down the list. Stockman’s trial is set for June 5 before Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal for the Southern District of Texas.

Stockman’s new attorney, Richard B. Kuniansky, who defended former accountant Mark Kuhrt in the massive Stanford prosecution several years ago, said after Stockman’s plea that he felt news reports had been unfair in their portrayal of the former lawmaker.

“It’s my understanding that pretty much been a pattern of attack on the character of Mr. Stockman,” Kuniansky said. “We’re looking forward to the truth coming out.”

See here for the background, and here for the pre-hearing version of the story. All I have to add at this point is that I too look forward to the truth coming out.

Steve Stockman claims he’s broke

Pobrecito.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former Congressman Steve Stockman told a federal magistrate Wednesday he can’t afford to pay for a lawyer to represent him against allegations he helped steal about $800,000 in charitable donations intended for conservative organizations.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson agreed to appoint a lawyer for him and postponed a hearing on his case until Friday.

Stockman told the judge he needed to dismiss his hand-picked lawyers from the elite firm of Smyser Kaplan & Veselka and ideally he wanted the court to re-appoint them to the case at the government’s expense. She said she’d consider the request.

He confirmed for the judge details on a disclosure form he’d filled out in front of a roomful of defendants in shackles and jail uniforms, indicating he owned a home, a rental property and two vans.

“But you have no assets?” Johnson asked.

“This is a four-year case,” the former lawmaker said, indicating he’d been paying for legal support on these matters for a long time.

See here and here for some background. I would have asked him “what, you can’t use some of that money you stole to pay your lawyers?”, which is no doubt why I’m not a US Magistrate. Well, that and the lack of a law degree. But seriously, this guy. I don’t know why anyone believes a word he says.

In the meantime, feast on this.

The fact that the former congressman is facing multiple felony counts made national news. But one of the most interesting details in the 46-page Stockman indictment escaped notice: The suggestion that Richard Uihlein, one of the country’s biggest conservative political donors, personally wrote a check for $450,571.65 to mail a fake newspaper called The Conservative News to voters across Texas. The paper, which prosecutors say was part of a Stockman-run, secretly funded operation intended to take down Cornyn, included the dubious claims that Cornyn wanted to ban veterans from having guns, had voted to fund abortion, and was secretly working with Democrats to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.

Mailing a fake newspaper is not a crime, nor is secretly funding a candidate to do so. Thanks to a series of court decisions now known collectively as Citizens United, billionaires are allowed to fund anonymous attacks as long as they abide by an arcane set of tax and campaign finance rules. And Uihlein, who has given more than $43 million to conservative candidates and super PACs since 2011, is a particularly big fish. He is the chief executive of a family-owned shipping and packing materials company that’s confusingly named “Uline,” which Forbes estimated was worth at least $700 million in 2014. And through his private foundation, Uihlein has given millions more to nonprofits that push a conservative policy agenda and train a new generation of political operatives to sell it.

It’s not clear what, if anything, Uihlein knew about Stockman’s fake-news scheme. He is described as a victim in the Stockman case: Prosecutors say Stockman and his staffers fraudulently diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars Uihlein had donated. Uihlein’s funding of the fake-news operation would likely never have become public had Stockman not gotten tangled up with an FBI investigation — meaning this episode exposes a side of the U.S. campaign finance system we don’t often get to see.

[…]

Larry Barry, director of legal affairs at Uline, refused to answer questions about the case, but said in an emailed statement that “we are deeply troubled by the allegations … that certain contributions made in good faith may have been used for unintended personal and political purposes.” Barry referred to Uihlein as “a victim of this alleged misconduct” and said that “we have and will continue to fully cooperate with the Department of Justice in this investigation.”

[…]

One of the biggest unanswered questions in the Stockman case is how he apparently fooled Uihlein twice.

Prosecutors say Posey told Uihlein’s accountant in a May 13, 2014, email ― sent two months after Stockman lost the election ― that some of the money that was supposed to be used for Freedom House had gone to delivering medical supplies to “third world” countries. The email, which also included an attached tax exemption letter for Life Without Limits, allegedly constituted wire fraud ― though prosecutors don’t spell out exactly why.

What the documents don’t clear up is why Uihlein would fund Stockman’s direct mail campaign a year after his donation for Freedom House ― especially since it seemed like so little progress had been made on that first project. “You raise a good question, but it’s not one I can talk about today,” said Dane C. Ball, a Houston lawyer defending Stockman.

An answer may be in the offing if the case goes to trial. If that happens, it’s likely Uihlein would be called to testify, said D.C. campaign finance lawyer Brett Kappel.

“Get your popcorn,” he quipped.

There’s not enough popcorn in the world. Also, I am unreasonably amused by the fact that Uline’s director of legal affairs is named “Larry Barry”. I cannot wait for this trial to begin.

A closer look at the Stockman saga

Chron reporter Lise Olson takes a deep dive into the charges against former Congressman and fulltime hot mess Steve Stockman.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Steve Stockman was soon to board a plane for the United Arab Emirates this month when his unorthodox life took a sudden detour. The outspoken two-time former congressman from Houston was met at the airport by federal agents holding an arrest warrant.

In his own colorful campaign literature, Stockman, 60, has portrayed himself as a gun-loving, abortion-hating activist and philanthropist who has used frequent travels abroad to deliver Christian charity and medical supplies to developing nations.

But a 28-count federal indictment handed down Wednesday describes Stockman as the head of a complex criminal conspiracy. It alleges that he and two aides collected $1.2 million from three U.S.-based foundations and individuals, laundered and misspent most of that money, spied on an unnamed opponent, accepted illegal campaign contributions, funneled money through bogus bank accounts and businesses, and failed to pay taxes on his ill-gotten gains.

Some of that money went for trips to try to “secure millions of dollars from African countries and companies operating” in Africa, the indictment says.

[…]

Jason Posey, 46, has been described as Stockman’s primary accomplice in the scheme to divert donations through companies linked by federal investigators to suburban Houston post office boxes and an array of bank accounts. He has not been arrested. Thomas Dodd, the other former staffer, pleaded guilty earlier this month to two charges related to the same conspiracy and agreed to testify as part of his plea deal.

The purpose of their conspiracy was “to unlawfully enrich themselves and to fund their political activities by fraudulently soliciting and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars,” the indictment says.

Prosecutors say Stockman used hundreds of thousands of pilfered funds to pay campaign and credit card debts, to cover personal expenses – and to politically attack Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Stockman’s long-shot Republican primary against Cornyn was the subject of one the scams outlined in the indictment.

In February 2014, Posey solicited and received a $450,000 charitable contribution from an Illinois-based donor that was supposed to finance 800,000 mailings to Texas voters of a campaign publication resembling a “newspaper.” The mass mailings for the Senate primary were part of what Posey later swore in an affidavit was an entirely “independent election expenditure” that was handled entirely by Posey and not by Stockman, one of the candidates.

Those mailings, made to look like real newspapers, championed Stockman’s candidacy and opposed Cornyn.

Posey received the donation through a company he controlled called the Center for the American Future, but he coordinated the mass mailings directly with Stockman in violation of federal campaign finance laws, the indictment says. Stockman and Posey also sought a partial refund of the mailing costs – $214,718.51 – without the donor’s knowledge and split the money, the indictment says.

Prosecutors allege Posey used the money to pay Stockman’s Senate campaign debts and his own personal expenses, including “airfare on a flight departing the United States.”

See here for the most recent update, and here for a large sample of my Stockman archives. A lot of people have been motivated to get involved in politics this year after the Trump debacle of 2016. It was Steve Stockman who provided my motivation to get more involved in politics, after his upset (and upsetting) Congressional victory in 1994. I’ve noted before that former Congressman Nick Lampson was the first candidate I ever donated to, and the first candidate whose fundraiser I attended, back in 1996. That was at least as much about Stockman as it was about Lampson.

The thing about Stockman is that, all politics aside, he has long acted in a shady manner. Do a search of the Houston Press’ archives for Stockman stories and peruse what they were writing about him during that 1995-96 Congressional term of office (Google on “steve stockman site:houstonpress.com”, for example) to see what I mean. In doing that myself, I came across this little nugget, which shows that the past is never truly past:

The squirrelly adventures of Congressman Steve Stockman’s frat-house band of consultants who call themselves Political Won Stop seem to know no limits. The Hill, a Congress-covering weekly in the nation’s capital, first revealed that Stockman’s re-election campaign had paid more than $126,000 to the consultancy, which is owned by 26-year-old Chris Cupit and 25-year-old Jason Posey and is listed on the congressman’s campaign disclosures as having the same Whitman Way address as Stockman’s combination home and election headquarters just outside Friendswood.

Emphasis mine. The fact that Stockman has had a long association with Jason Posey is not suggestive of anything. The fact that Stockman has been involved in at least two questionable-if-not-actually-illegal ventures with Posey is. Whatever we know now, I feel confident there’s more to be uncovered.

Stockman indicted

And here the troubles begin.

Steve Stockman

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman and a former congressional aide were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on charges they stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from charitable foundations to fund campaigns and pay personal expenses.

Stockman, 60, and his former director of special projects, Jason Posey, 46, were charged with 28 criminal counts, including mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission, making excessive campaign contributions and money laundering.

Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez in Houston called the indictment “a very significant case” for the office in a brief statement. “The indictment returned by the grand jury today is a significant case alleging serious violations involving use of official positions for personal gain. Violations of the public trust will not be tolerated,” he said.

The case is being jointly prosecuted by the Southern District of Texas and the Washington DC-based Public Integrity Section.

Stockman also faces a charge of filing a false tax return, and Posey is charged with falsifying a sworn statement to obstruct an investigation by federal elections officials.

[…]

Federal investigators say in the indictment that between from May 2010 and October 2014, Stockman brought in about $1.25 million in donations based on false pretenses. He then diverted nearly $285,000 donated to charitable causes to pay for his and Dodd’s personal expenses.

Stockman and Dodd also are accused of receiving $165,000 in charitable donations, which Stockman largely spent to fund his 2012 congressional campaign.

See here, here, and here for the background. Just a thought here, but defending oneself against these kinds of charges is an expensive prospect, and there were questions about how exactly Stockman was supporting himself back when he was in office. I don’t know how he’s going to pay for his lawyers, and I kind of doubt he’s going to be able to raise the money. We’ll see how it goes. The Trib has more.

Stockman’s first day in court

Oh, this is going to be so much fun.

Steve Stockman

Appearing carefree and relaxed with his wife by his side, former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman told reporters outside a court hearing downtown Friday that he expected “to be vindicated” on allegations that he conspired with staffers to take $775,000 in donations intended for charitable purposes or voter education.

Stockman appeared briefly, in a charcoal suit and tie, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith and put a trio of lawyers from Smyser Kaplan & Veselka, LLP, on record to represent him. The judge set a preliminary hearing on the matter for April 11 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson.

On the sidewalk outside the federal courthouse, Stockman said he didn’t intend to plead guilty or enter into a plea agreement, adding, “I think ultimately we will be vindicated.”

Stockman’s attorney, Shaun G. Clarke, said he could not comment on the details of the case but he lauded Stockman’s reputation and integrity, while Stockman stood smiling beside him.

“We’ve just met Steve. But a couple of things have become clear — number one, that he’s a man of faith; number two, that he’s a fighter; number three, most of all, that he has tremendous faith in the Constitution of the United States of America,” Clarke said. “Steve has said he is going to fight to clear his name, and we’re going to be there next to him fighting to do it also.”

“We’re here to vindicate an innocent man – Steve Stockman – and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.”

See here and here for the background. Do yourself a favor and be sure to click on the Chron story link, to see the awesome graphic in that that has Stockman at the center of this bizarre web of PO boxes, shell corporations, and foreign addresses. The only way it could be better is if it were on some paranoid dude’s wall, with push pins and string connecting it all. I’m already visualizing the future documentary on A&E about the Stockman saga, with Bill Kurtis narrating. Don’t let me down, y’all. The Trib has more.

More on the Stockman arrest

I’m just going to leave this here.

Steve Stockman

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, a Republican whose district stretched from Houston to Beaumont, allegedly conspired with two staffers to bilk conservative foundations out of at least $775,000 in donations meant for charitable purposes or voter education, according to federal court records.

Details of the alleged scam are described in a plea deal signed in Houston by Thomas Dodd, Stockman’s former campaign worker and 2013 congressional special assistant. Dodd pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of conspiracy and has agreed to help authorities build a case against Stockman in return for consideration on his sentencing. The maximum penalty for each charge is 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Stockman was arrested March 16 by a Houston-based FBI agent as he prepared to board a plane to the Middle East, but was released on $25,000 bond after surrendering his passport.

He has been charged with two counts of conspiracy for allegedly colluding with Dodd and another staffer to hide illegal campaign contributions and to divert $350,000 from the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, based in Lake Forest, Ill. Uihlein had donated funds to renovate a townhouse to be used as a place for congressional interns to gather in Washington D.C. The meeting spot was never created. Dodd’s plea agreement says that he and Stockman also diverted $425,000 from the Rothschild Charitable Foundation and the Rothschild Art Foundation Inc., based in Baltimore.

The Rothschild Foundations donated for charitable purposes and voter education.

Most of the $775,000 in foundation donations was spent on Stockman’s campaign and on credit card bills, according to allegations in Dodd’s plea deal.

Prosecutors claim those illegal acts were part of a larger and more complex scam, court records show. The plea deal outlines a conspiracy among Stockman, Dodd and another staff member that allegedly included two shell companies, bogus campaign contributions, lies to executives at the foundations and a trail of wire and mail fraud.

See here for the background. An earlier story has a copy of the aforementioned plea agreement, which you can see here. This Chron story summarizes the questions that remain about Stockman and his questionable finances, many of which first came up back in 2014. I just want to point out that had Stockman not gotten into his twisted little head to run against John Cornyn in 2014, he’d very likely still be a sitting member of Congress. Funny how these things work.

Steve Stockman gets busted

Well, lookie here.

Steve Stockman

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, has been charged with violating federal election law.

Stockman conspired with former congressional employees to funnel money intended for a charity to his campaign, according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent unsealed Thursday. He is also accused of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.

The allegations center on a $350,000 donation Stockman solicited from an unnamed businessman shortly after taking office in 2013, according to the statement. The money was supposed to go to a Las Vegas-based nonprofit called Life Without Limits, but Stockman instead “secretly diverted the funds to pay for a variety of personal expenses and to fund illegal contributions to Stockman’s campaigns for public office,” the statement said.

See here for my extensive Stockman archives. Here’s a longer story from the Chron:

Stockman said after the hearing that he had been targeted for speaking out against the Internal Revenue Service, and cited the right-wing conspiracy theory that contends bureaucrats are secretly running the U.S. government.

“This is part of a deep state that’s continuing to progress,” he said.

[…]

In court documents filed with the criminal complaint, the FBI agent said that shortly after Stockman took office for the second time in January 2013, he solicited a $350,000 donation from an unidentified “wealthy businessman” from Chicago on behalf of a Las Vegas-based nonprofit, Life Without Limits, which had been set up to help people through traumatic events.

The donation ostensibly was for renovation of a so-called Freedom House to serve as a meeting and training facility in Washington, D.C. The businessman’s charitable organization issued a check the same day.

Instead of going to the house project, however, the check was deposited six few days later in a Webster bank account set up by Stockman doing business as Life Without Limits – an account that had a balance of only $33.48 at the time, according to the agent.

“Beginning shortly after the $350,000 charitable donation was deposited into his Life Without Limits account, rather than spending the money on the ‘Freedom House,’ Stockman secretly diverted the funds to pay for a variety of personal expenses and to fund illegal contributions to Stockman’s campaigns for public office,” the agent stated.

Records show he made no “significant” contributions toward the renovations and that the Freedom House never opened.

According to the agent, some of the funds were funneled directly into the campaign through “conduit contributors,” who received cash from the Life Without Limits account and then made contributions to Stockman’s campaign.

Outside of court on Friday, Stockman said the amount in dispute is $15,000 – not the $350,000 described in court. He did not explain the higher dollar amount.

He said he has been investigated by at least three grand juries over the past three years after he tried to have Lois Lerner of the IRS arrested for contempt of congress in July 2014.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a nonprofit group that wanted to sue Lerner and other individual IRS officials for allegedly harassing tea party groups that applied for tax-exempt status with burdensome scrutiny in 2014.

As trouble follows Steve Stockman like flies follow a garbage truck, Stockman was investigated for ethical issues in 2014, during his one-term return to Congress after winning a multi-candidate primary for the new CD36. By the end of his term, he and three of his staffers had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, which is what I presume led to this. There were also investigations by the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Congressional Ethics, and the Federal Elections Commission, which is an impressive amount of activity for one otherwise inconsequential single-term Congressperson. I’ll say again, he remains one of the most brilliant and underrated political performance artists of our time. We may never see his like again, though we may see his ass in jail by the time this is all said and done. Click2Houston, ThinkProgress, the Press, and Juanita have more.

Former HISD Trustee Marshall found liable in civil bribery lawsuit

Ouch.

A bribery lawsuit that kept a cloud of suspicion over the Houston school district for six years ended Wednesday with a jury finding that former board president Larry Marshall participated in a kickback scheme that caused millions of dollars in damages to a local construction contractor.

The civil jury decided in favor of the Gil Ramirez Group, an upstart firm that alleged it lost lucrative school district contracts because it did not offer bribes to Marshall through his political campaign treasurer and longtime friend, Joyce Moss-Clay.

The verdict, which may be appealed, deals a hit to Marshall’s legacy as one of the longest-serving and best-known Houston school trustees, who started as a teacher in 1955 and later worked to integrate the nation’s seventh-largest district.

“The culture of corruption at HISD took a serious blow today,” Kelly Greenwood Prather, an attorney for Gil Ramirez Jr., said after the verdict, which triggered tears of joy from her client.

The jury found that Marshall, Moss-Clay and two HISD construction contractors violated the civil racketeering law and awarded the Gil Ramirez Group about $451,500, an amount that is tripled to $1.4 million under law.

The jury also found the group interfered in contracts and awarded $3.4 million in punitive damages, plus $676,667 in actual damages.

The Houston Independent School District, dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit in 2015, distanced itself from Marshall Wednesday, issuing a statement that the district is not responsible for paying damages on the former trustee’s behalf.

HISD’s response could complicate the payout to the Gil Ramirez Group if Marshall lacks the funds.

Attorney Chad Dunn, also representing Ramirez, said he believed the district is liable for the damages.

“The school district spent millions of dollars defending Larry Marshall and now it wants to avoid its own responsibility,” Dunn said. “If this is a sign of the district’s response to the jury’s message, it’s pathetic.”

This lawsuit had been dismissed by the trial judge in 2013, then reinstated on appeal two years later. It’s a bit unclear what happens next, whether Marshall will appeal or HISD will be ordered to cover some of the judgment against him; there’s also a federal criminal investigation that’s still out there. What I do know is that Marshall, who had a sterling career as an educator, threw all that away as a school board trustee, and the stain he left on HISD as a whole through this ordeal – and he was far from the only one with dirty hands – will take a long time to remove. The Press has more.

Paxton keeps finding new ways to be in trouble

The man has a talent.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Ethics experts on Wednesday were torn over whether Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s decision to accept $100,000 for his legal defense from a donor whose company was under investigation by his office violates the letter of the law or the spirit of it.

The attorney general’s office argued the donation is allowable because the embattled Paxton was not involved in the investigation that ended in a $3.5 million settlement of a federal whistleblower lawsuit.

State law prohibits agency officials from accepting a “benefit” from someone under the agency’s oversight and generally bans gifts from anyone other than family and those with a relationship independent of the office holder’s position. The revelation that Paxton’s office was investigating his benefactor’s company raises questions about defining “oversight” and “personal relationship,” ethics advocates said.

“When you start talking about receiving money from somebody that you still have jurisdiction over in a lawsuit, you just can’t do that,” said Buck Wood, an Austin elections lawyer and Texas ethics expert.

Agency employees in the attorney general’s office “shall never” take gifts from an entity “the employee knows is being investigated” by the office, according to internal rules obtained by the Associated Press.

Last year, Paxton accepted the gift from Preferred Imaging founder James Webb, whose company was under investigation at the time for Medicaid fraud. The attorney general’s Texas Civil Medicaid Fraud Division and the U.S. Justice Department in June co-signed a $3.5 million settlement of a whistleblower lawsuit accusing the company of violating Medicaid billing rules.

[…]

“The ethics laws are fuzzy. It’s not clear this is a violation of the law,” said [Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice], who said he hopes lawmakers will address the state’s gift ban next legislative session. “Clearly, it’s a violation of judgement and it clearly, no doubt, poses a conflict of interest between the attorney general and Mr. Webb’s company.”

The good news for Ken Paxton is that this apparently doesn’t amount to an actual violation of law or regulation, so there’s no grounds for another complaint and investigation. It’s just another example of how his ethical failings have had a negative effect on his ability to do his job. One supposes he’s used to dealing with that by now. Ross Ramsey, the Associated Press, and the Current have more.

With friends like these

Who needs to worry about legal bills?

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, facing federal and state securities fraud charges, is getting more than a little help from his friends to foot his growing legal bill.

The Republican accepted more than $329,000 earmarked for his legal defense from donors and “family friends,” according to a newly released financial disclosure statement.

The document, which Paxton filed to the Texas Ethics Commission on Friday, shows gifts from more than two dozen people or couples labeled “family friends.”

That included a $100,000 gift from James Webb, a CEO of a medical imaging firm who lives in Frisco and is a major Paxton donor. He and his living trust have donated more than $355,000 to Paxton’s campaign.

[…]

Paxton has said he is not tapping campaign contributions or taxpayer dollars. Texas law bars such practices, because his case does not involve his official duties.

In his filing Friday, Paxton categorized the defense fund money as a “gift.”

State bribery laws prohibit elected officials from receiving gifts from people or entities subject to their authority, and as attorney general, Paxton’s could extend broadly. Seeking to circumvent those barriers, Paxton’s filing cited an “independent relationship” exception. That allows gifts from family members and those “independent” of an office holder’s “official status.”

You can see a copy of the disclosure form here. The key thing to note is that this is for activity through December 31, 2015, so however much it shows being given to Paxton for legal fees, it only covers last year. For sure, he has received plenty more such “gifts” since then. Which he surely needs, and will continue to need for the foreseeable future, since he’s spending boatloads on legal fees. Must be nice to have so many loaded and loyal friends.

The Chron notes another dimension to this.

Craig McDonald, executive director of the left-leaning watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, said Paxton’s legal defense fundraising points out a weakness in the state’s ethics laws.

“It’s a huge loophole in the law that needs to be closed,” said McDonald whose group advocates for a gift ban for state officials. “Where does Paxton’s circle of independent relationships end?”

State law currently prohibits gifts for the governor, lieutenant governor and legislators —as well as members of their staffs — but that prohibition does not apply to the attorney general’s office. An employee at a regulatory agency like the attorney general’s office is forbidden from asking for, accepting or agreeing to accept a gift only if the official knows the giver is subject to the agency’s authority.

Yet, all of Texas’ elected state officials can accept “a gift or other benefit conferred on account of kinship or a personal, professional, or business relationship independent of the official status of the recipient.”

The same exemption allowed for Rick Perry to amass a catalog of freebies during his time as Texas governor, ranging from Stetson hats to hunting trips. As the state’s former attorney general, Gov. Greg Abbott also reported receiving a long list of gifts from donors and friends, including a new gun, football tickets and free travel and lodging for his family.

The Legislature allows that loophole, and the Legislature could plug it if it wanted to. I’m just saying.

Abbott orders state agencies to obey the law

Better late than never.

Droppin’ dimes, droppin’ dimes

Gov. Greg Abbott and Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Wednesday ordered state agencies to stop paying departing employees by placing them on “emergency leave.”

“Pursuant to this directive, the use of emergency leave, administrative leave or other mechanisms to continue paying state employees who have ceased to work will be prohibited,” the directive from Abbott and Hegar stated. The directive will remain in place until the Legislature takes up the issue during next year’s legislative session, Abbott’s office said.

The Dallas Morning News and other media outlets have recently reported on the growing practice by agencies to keep departing employees on the payroll by placing them on “emergency leave,” often as a form of severance.

The practice first came to light after reports that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid his first assistant attorney and communications director for months after they left the agency. Subsequent stories revealed the General Land Office continued to pay departing employees without using the emergency leave designation.

Representatives of both agencies said they will follow the governor’s new order.

“We appreciate Governor Abbott’s leadership,” said Marc Rylander, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “We do not disagree with the Governor’s new policy for all agencies subject to the direction of the governor, and we will concur with it moving forward.”

Brittany Eck, GLO spokeswoman, said the agency will suspend the use of separation agreements until lawmakers decide how to proceed.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the Governor, Comptroller, and members of the Texas Legislature to not only clarify the law on this issue but also discuss how state agencies should manage its workforce in an efficient and cost-effective manner,” Eck said.

See here and here for the background. The Lone Star Project requested an investigation into this a couple of days ago. I guess it had finally gotten to the point where Abbott could no longer ignore the issue. Trail Blazers and the Chron have more.

Lone Star Project requests investigation of severance packages

From the inbox:

BagOfMoney

Today, Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle sent letters to the Texas Rangers, the State Auditor and the Travis County District Attorney requesting formal investigations into a series of questionable payments made by Attorney General Ken Paxton, State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, State Land Commissioner George P. Bush and other state officials.

Improper Payments Detailed in Investigative News Reports

Widespread abuse of state employee compensation has been detailed in a series of investigative news reports by the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and other Texas publications over recent weeks.  The reports point to the systematic use of “emergency leave” as well as document manipulation to allow some state employees to quit or be removed from their state jobs but continue receiving thousands of dollars in state pay.   In some cases, the payments appear intended to provide special treatment to politically connected or otherwise favored employees.  In other instances, the payments may be a form of hush money to keep specific employees from criticizing state officials or disclosing information that might prove incriminating or embarrassing.

Angle’s letter to the Texas Rangers can be seen here and reads in part:

“These reports confirm that, contrary to the intent of law, multiple statewide officeholders have provided certain employees with emergency leave packages as a form of severance pay or even settlement agreements.”

“The intentional misuse of state funds violates both the spirit and the letter of the emergency leave provision of state law and could be viewed by Texas taxpayers as the equivalent of tax-payer funded hush money.”

“Specifically, the facts outlined by state news media and Texas state law merit a full investigation of the Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, Land Commissioner, Teacher Retirement System, Water Development Board and potentially other agencies for violations of Texas Penal Code 39.02 (Abuse of Official Capacity), Section 36.02 (Bribery), and Section 37.10 (Tampering with a Government Record).”

See here and here for the background. I had assumed someone would file a complaint over this sooner or later. The Rangers and the State Auditor can add it to their growing to-do list. The Chron has more.

More on severance pay and the Land Commissioner’s office

The law doesn’t apply here.

BagOfMoney

After reports of state agencies keeping former employees on the payroll after they stopped working, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other agency heads have taken heat for stretching the rules on paid “emergency leave” to keep the ex-workers on the books.

But when 26 employees were paid for an additional one to two months after they quit working for the General Land Office, Land Commissioner George P. Bush didn’t use emergency leave or any other type of paid leave established in law to compensate them. Instead, Bush’s agency treated the former employees as if they were still working, sending time sheets to the comptroller’s office indicating they had shown up to work.

The arrangement raises questions about whether the agency properly awarded and reported the paid leave, which amounted to at least $383,000 for the 26 employees let go during Bush’s “reboot” of the agency after he took office in January 2015.

An additional 14 employees signed separation agreements when they left the agency after Bush was elected in November 2014 but before he was sworn in. Bush’s predecessor, Jerry Patterson, said those terminations should also be included as part of Bush’s agency reorganization because Patterson allowed Bush and his interim team to decide who should be hired and fired during that period.

[…]

State law spells out several types of paid leave — for such events as illnesses, vacation and deaths in the family — and the comptroller’s office requires agencies to indicate what type of leave an absent employee is getting by selecting a time sheet code that matches a leave category established in law.

The General Land Office, however, didn’t select any type of leave for the 26 employees with separation agreements, and the agency has since said it left the leave field blank because there was no leave category that corresponded to their circumstance. “Because there was not a more accurate code, we used what was readily available to us, and we didn’t want to miscategorize it as something that is not accurate,” agency spokeswoman Brittany Eck said.

For Buck Wood, a former deputy comptroller and expert on Texas government and ethics law, that omission is proof that the leave wasn’t authorized by state law.

“There’s got to be an appropriation, and there’s also got to be a law behind an appropriation that authorizes it,” Wood said. “In this case, neither exists. There is no such thing as severance pay (in state law), and there’s no appropriation for it, so it’s just totally and completely illegal.”

Also, Wood said, any time sheets approved by the General Land Office that indicated employees were still working after they had left the agency might constitute falsification of government records, a felony offense.

Bush’s staff said such payments are standard practice in the business world because they are efficient. Noting that none of the 100 employees who left the agency under Bush have sued for discrimination, Eck said the agreements save taxpayer money by reducing potential litigation risks and legal fees.

See here for the background. You almost have to admire their tenacity with the “it’s totally legit in the private sector” defense. Who cares that this is the public sector, or that knowing how our money is spent and how our public offices are being run are things we are supposed to value? Not George P. Bush, that’s for sure. You won’t get that kind of clarity of vision from just anyone. Ross Ramsey has more.

You get a severance! And you get a severance!

Everybody gets a severance package!

BagOfMoney

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has spent nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to entice dozens of people fired by his administration to agree not to sue him or the agency, a practice that may run afoul of a ban on severance pay for state workers.

Bush, a first-term Republican, has directed the General Land Office to keep at least 40 people on the payroll for as long as five months after ending their employment, according to an analysis of records obtained by the Houston Chronicle. The ex-staffers did not have to use vacation time, and, in fact, continued to accrue more time for as long as they were on the payroll. In return, they agreed in writing not to sue the agency or discuss the deal.

Many of the recipients were top aides to former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson who were fired during an agency “reboot” in which Bush replaced more than 100 employees.

Such separation arrangements are made frequently in the corporate world, but are not allowed in Texas government, where there is no severance and staffers generally are required to work to be paid, according to employment lawyers, union leaders and former state officials.

“I can understand the thinking of an agency head who wants to get rid of someone and thinks that this is an easy way to do it, but this is not the way to do it,” said Buck Wood, an ethics expert and former deputy state comptroller, noting the detailed rules that govern how agencies can spend money do not authorize that purpose. “Keeping someone on the payroll when they’re not coming to work so you can avoid the hassle of a lawsuit is just illegal.”

Malinda Gaul, a San Antonio employment lawyer who has represented state workers for 33 years, said she had never heard of such an arrangement.

[…]

Steve Aragon, a former general counsel for the Health and Human Services Commission, said he thinks there are justifiable reasons to pay employees for not working, including to prevent litigation in cases in which it was clear that a staffer likely would not come back. However, he said, it is not something that state agencies should do frequently.

“These situations should be exceptional and would not be expected as a matter of routine,” Aragon said.

Others objected to any use of the practice, including Seth Hutchinson, a spokesman for the Texas State Employees Union.

“It’s not an appropriate use of state funds,” Hutchinson said. “If people are being wrongfully fired, they’re being wrongfully fired, and they shouldn’t be using state funds to cover it up.”

After being told that it is not uncommon in the corporate world, Hutchinson scoffed.

“State government should be held to a higher standard of accountability,” he said.

This is getting to be quite the pattern, isn’t it? It’s almost like Baby Bush and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller have no regard for the law but only care about their own interests. I presume someone will file a complaint about this, thus providing Greg Abbott another opportunity to profess ignorance about what’s happening in his government. Keep it up, fellas.

This week in Ken Paxton Dishonesty

What else has he been lying about?

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Ken Paxton told federal investigators a tech CEO gave him $100,000 worth of stock five years ago, but he never disclosed the shares as either a gift or income, an issue ethics experts agreed could spell more trouble for the attorney general already facing state and federal fraud charges.

According to federal fraud charges filed against Paxton last month, the embattled first-term Republican AG told investigators from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that in 2011 he was given 100,000 shares of stock in the North Texas tech startup Servergy by the firm’s then-CEO Bill Mapp.

While Paxton said he intended to invest in the company and pay for the shares, Mapp allegedly wouldn’t accept, telling him during a meeting at a McKinney Dairy Queen that “God doesn’t want me to take your money,” according to the SEC charges.

“Consequently, Paxton claims, he later accepted the shares as a gift,” the charges added. Yet Paxton, who was a state representative at the time, never disclosed the stock as a gift on annual personal financial statements elected officials are required to file with the state.

Federal investigators doubt the shares were given as a gift, instead alleging Mapp handed over the stock to Paxton as a “sales commission” for convincing other people to invest in his company.

[…]

State law says elected officials who receive a gift worth more than $250 must disclose it on the “gifts” section of their annual personal financial statements. On his 2011 statement, Paxton for the first time disclosed that he held 10,000 or more shares in Servergy.

He did not also list the shares in the “gifts” section.

Several ethics experts said if an elected official receives stock as a gift, they must disclose the shares in both the “gifts” and “stock” sections on the personal financial statement. The gift section, unlike the stock section, requires the official to divulge the name of the donor.

The only exceptions to this disclosure rule, according to state law, are for gifts that come from a relative by blood or marriage within two degrees, political contributions or lobbyist expenditures.

“It specifically requires that a gift be reported if it is in excess of $250,” said Tim Sorrells, a private practice attorney who served as the general counsel of the Texas Ethics Commission for a dozen years. Renea Hicks, an Austin attorney who specializes in ethics issues, added, “If it was a gift, it seems obvious to me it would have to be listed in the gifts section.”

Paxton did not list the stock under the “gifts” section of his personal financial statement that year or in any year since.

See here and here for some background. This, again, is why Paxton is writing legally meaningless threat letters to Target about bathrooms. It’s all to keep his core supporters focused on the things they like, and not on these unpleasant little allegations about Paxton’s utter lack of moral character. A scoundrel’s gotta do what a scoundrel’s gotta do.

One more thing:

The Texas Ethics Commission can fine someone who breaks disclosure laws $5,000 or three times the amount at issue. Criminal charges for perjury or making false statements would also be possible, said former assistant attorney general Fred Lewis. Failing to file a personal financial statement correctly in accordance with state law is a Class B misdemeanor.

Progress Texas? Texans for Public Justice? This is your cue.

Oh, Borris

Not good.

Borris Miles

Borris Miles

State Rep. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, repeatedly failed to disclose his business interests in three companies as state law requires.

The lawmaker did not report on state ethics forms for several years that he had an ownership stake in two hospice agencies or that he owned an entertainment company that operates a cigar bar in south Houston.

Miles rectified these omissions in recent days after the Houston Chronicle inquired about them. Through his attorney, he filed “corrected” ethics statements and “good-faith” affidavits in which he says, “I swear, or affirm, that any error or omission in the report as originally filed was made in good faith.”

On the new forms, Miles disclosed that he had business interests in Attentive Hospice from 2012 through 2015, in A-1 Hospice of Houston in 2009, and in Goodlife Management from 2009 through 2013.

Ethics watchdogs consider Texas’ ethics act weak but say its requirement that lawmakers, other public officials and candidates disclose business ownership can enable the public to determine whether they are engaged in conflicts of interest.

And when they don’t disclose? Craig McDonald, director of the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice, said public officials rarely are punished sufficiently for failing to properly report.

“When the minimum disclosure standards that we have are violated, we need tougher and swifter penalties for it,” he said. “It’s a lack of enforcement. That comes from an unwillingness among legislators to regulate themselves with respect to transparency on their finances.”

The penalty for failing to file required items on the ethics statements ranges from $500 to $10,000 if the Texas Ethics Commission takes action under its rules. If a sworn complaint is filed alleging a violation, the commission can order a fine up to $5,000 or triple the amount at issue, whichever is more. A prosecutor also can pursue a misdemeanor charge.

The issue of whether Miles should be sanctioned for not initially disclosing three of his business interests highlights flaws with the ethics law, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a nonprofit watchdog group.

The state ethics commission doesn’t audit personal financial statements filed by public officials and candidates to track whether they disclose everything about their businesses, he said. “And we don’t prosecute them for their failure to fully disclose,” Smith added. “As a result, people can blatantly ignore the personal financial statement requirements and there’s really no consequence except for a fine that is less than the rounding error on the business income at question.”

I like Rep. Miles and I hate to have to write about this stuff, but our disclosure requirements are woefully inadequate enough as it is, and there’s no excuse for this. It would help if the Legislature got around to creating real penalties for failing to comply with these requirements – Greg Abbott has paid lip service to this, but failed quite miserably in the last session to achieve anything – but even in the absence of penalties that sting, compliance is not optional. If someone wants to file a complaint over this with the TEC and/or the Harris County DA, that’s their right, and Rep. Miles will need to face whatever consequences follow from that. In the meantime, I hope everyone else is reviewing their own disclosure statements and bringing them into compliance if they are not fully there. I also hope the Lege revisits the issue of penalties for non-compliance. In effect, the Legislature has the power to oversee itself, since they have the power to grant or rescind oversight authority to the TEC. Let’s take that job a bit more seriously, shall we?

Weekend scandal news roundup

If anything comes from the Texas Rangers investigation into his questionable expenditures, Ag Commissioner Sid Miller would be prosecuted in Travis County.

Sid Miller

If embattled Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is prosecuted for misusing government funds, his trial would be in Travis County, officials said Friday, despite a new law that sends some corruption cases against state officials and employees to their home counties.

Before December, the public integrity unit in the Travis County district attorney’s office investigated and prosecuted alleged corruption by state officials and employees. House Bill 1690 changed that, moving investigation of accusations such as bribery, gifts to public servants, perjury and tampering with government records to the Texas Rangers, a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Under the new law, charges can be brought in the official or employee’s home county.

The Rangers are investigating Miller for two February 2015 trips he reportedly took on the state’s dime. Liberal advocacy group Progress Texas requested an investigation into Miller’s state-paid trips, following reports that he participated in a rodeo and received an injection called the “Jesus Shot” while he was supposed to be on the job.

But if Miller’s case leads to a prosecution, it wouldn’t be heard in his home county of Erath because the events in question occurred before the new law took effect in December, officials from DPS and the Travis County district attorney’s office told the Tribune.

See here for an apparently inoperative discussion of the issue. I’m sure Miller would prefer it that way, since it will be much easier for him to complain about political motivations if it’s the Travis County DA and not the Erath County DA prosecuting him.

In the meantime, the Travis County DA already has an investigation going on.

The Texas state auditor’s office has referred its investigation into possible misuse of state workers by state Rep. Dawnna Dukes to Travis County prosecutors, the Austin American-Statesman reported late Friday.

The Texas Tribune reported in February that the auditor’s office was investigating Dukes’ use of state workers for her personal project, the African American Heritage Festival, a nonprofit event Dukes has overseen for 17 years.

The auditor’s investigation was prompted by complaints from Dukes’ former chief of staff, Michael French, who approached House officials in January with concerns about the legality of the staff’s work on the festival.

Dukes acknowledged her staff worked on the festival but said their role was minimal. A Jan. 12 email obtained by the Tribune shows Dukes directing her staff to make the festival a priority.

“Festival is all hands on priority,” Dukes wrote in the email. “I don’t want any delays or fall throughs.”

Two members of Dukes’ staff also expressed concerns over personal errands the lawmakers asked them to run, a list that included smoothie runs, vet visits and babysitting. One staffer moved in with Dukes for three months last summer in exchange for helping the Austin Democrat care for her daughter.

Something to keep in mind amid all the calls for Ken Paxton and Sid Miller to resign. Want another reason to be wary of such an outcome? Here you go.

Texas doesn’t have a cabinet form of government, but in Gov. Greg Abbott’s case, it might soon have the next best thing.

Two of the state’s relatively new elected officials — Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — are in deep political trouble at the moment. If worst comes to worst for either or both of those fine gentlemen, Abbott would appoint their replacements.

That’s a lot more say than he had when they won the positions in 2014.

Yeah, I don’t want that. From a purely partisan perspective, it’s much better for Paxton and Miller to stay where they are and be embarrassments to the rest of the GOP than to let Greg Abbott swoop in and clean up the mess.

And finally, let’s get back to Ken Paxton for a minute.

The state is paying thousands of dollars in salaries and benefits to at least two former high-level staffers in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office who haven’t worked there for over a month.

Charles “Chip” Roy resigned as first assistant attorney general March 9 but remains on the state’s payroll. He received his full month’s salary of $16,220.62 on April 1, according to the state comptroller, and remains on the payroll as an employee of the state even while working a new job for a national political committee.

Roy declined to comment about the payment arrangement, which the agency confirmed Wednesday after The Dallas Morning News raised questions. Despite its earlier public statement that Roy resigned, an agency spokeswoman said Thursday that he’s also on “emergency leave.”

“Roy resigned on March 9th. He is currently on emergency leave through June 10th,” spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said late Thursday.

If Roy’s arrangement continues until then, he will make $48,660 for the three months of emergency leave.

The agency at first offered no further explanation of the reason for the leave. When asked to clarify the emergency, Meyer said: “I’m not sure the answer.”

Texas’ “emergency leave” law says a state employee who has experienced a death in the family can take time off without seeing his or her pay cut. Agency heads also can approve other reasons for emergency leave if the employee “shows good case to take emergency leave.”

Employment law prohibits state workers from pulling down full-time salaries if they don’t work at least 40 hours a week for a public entity. There is no severance for workers who leave state employment, and the law that gives agency heads discretion in granting administrative leave also caps such time at 32 hours per year.

Austin-based campaign finance and ethics attorney Buck Wood questioned the arrangement.

“So, the emergency wasn’t so great that this person can’t work, or has any problems working? They just want to give her or him the money,” said Wood, who was not told the name of the individual or the agency in question. “This person obviously didn’t provide ‘good cause’ because they’re working. They’re just feeding you a line.”

So what was the emergency? Chip Roy needed health insurance.

Former First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy on Friday defended receiving thousands of dollars in salary and benefits after leaving the attorney general’s office to join a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC.

[…]

Roy’s statement indicates that he will receive much less than that because he took the leave option partly for medical reasons that were resolved Thursday.

“The terms of my resignation included from the OAG [office of the attorney general] an option for leave beyond my earned vacation and holiday time,” Roy said in the statement. “The primary benefit to me would have been healthcare coverage in light of being in the five-year window after Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. My plan has been to go off payroll at OAG using only my earned vacation and holiday time unless it were absolutely necessary to stay on pending the uncertainty of medical tests and subsequent employment. Yesterday I was blessed to receive an all-clear from my Oncologist and my complete departure from the OAG is effective at the time of the expiration of only earned vacation and holiday time.”

So a former top lieutenant of the Texas Attorney General’s office is worried about not having health insurance. Let that sink in for a minute. Then go read what Lize Burr has to say.

Let me put it this way:

Chip Roy was given the option to keep his state-paid health insurance past the normal point of his compensation because he was facing health uncertainty.

Now we come to the genuinely important news this week from the Center for Public Policy Priorities. It’s very simple and completely awful: 1.7 million Texas children live in poverty. 1.7 million children. That means 1.7 million children being raised by adults living in poverty. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, guardians. All in poverty.

And what is one of the greatest threats facing Texas families living in poverty? The cost of health care. Not just the kids’ health care–the parents’ health care. Texas has both the highest number and rate of adults with no medical insurance. These Texans live with an uncertainty that borders on a form of terror. And that is fear is shared by everyone in the home.

Chip Roy probably understands that fear. It’s probably the reason his employer was willing to place him on a special type of leave that continued his state-paid insurance while he was facing health unknowns. That was a humane act that I can understand. However, for a Republican office holder who is committed to the overturning the ACA and is against Medicaid expansion for low income Texas–the rejection of which costs the state of Texas $6 billion in uncompensated care a year–making that gesture isn’t a sign of compassion. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order.

I can’t say it any better than that.

Second complaint filed against Miller

You do the crime

Sid Miller

A liberal advocacy group has filed another complaint against Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who found himself in hot water recently over possible misuse of state and campaign funds.

The complaint, filed Wednesday by Progress Texas,asks the Texas Rangers to investigate Miller for using campaign funds to pay for a flight to Mississippi, where he won money in a rodeo competition. Miller, who said he met with donors while in Mississippi, has said he has done nothing wrong.

The group also has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Miller’s trip was revealed by a Houston Chroniclestory last week. Earlier this year, the Chronicle also reported that Miller may have used state funds to take a trip to Oklahoma for a controversial medical treatment. Miller reimbursed the state for that trip.

“This isn’t Sid Miller’s first rodeo,” said Lucy Stein, advocacy director of Progress Texas. “Miller has yet again demonstrated a pattern of abusing his office by misusing taxpayer and campaign funds.”

See here for the background. As with the previous complaint, the Texas Rangers would do the up front investigation before handing anything off to a District Attorney. The Rangers have now agreed to do their part, and Miller is totes sad that everybody is picking on him.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Wednesday called complaints filed against him over questions surrounding two taxpayer-funded out-of-state trips “harassment.”

The complaints were “filed by a very liberal left-wing organization, Progress Texas. They are just harassing me,” the Stephenville Republican said in a phone interview. “There’s nothing absolutely illegal or wrong with either of those trips … There is absolutely no validity to the complaint.”

[…]

One of the trips Miller took was to Oklahoma, where he received a controversial injection known as “the Jesus Shot” that is supposed to cure all pain for life.

When asked by the Houston Chronicle about the trip, Miller said he made it so he could tour the Oklahoma National Stockyards and meet with Oklahoma officials. But when those officials were contacted by the Chronicle, they said they had no plans to meet him in their state that day. Internal emails from the Agriculture Department later indicated that Miller had planned the trip around receiving the shot. After details about the trip became public, Miller said he would repay the state for the trip out of an “abundance of caution.”

Miller also traveled to Mississippi in February on the state’s dime. While there, Miller, who is a calf roper, participated in the National Dixie Rodeo. When asked about the trip, the Agriculture Department gave contradictory reports to media outlets.

I mean, come on, y’all. Why do there have to be all these rules and things taking all the joy out of life? Why can’t Sid Miller just be the Ag Commissioner he was always meant to be, without these professional busybodies poking their noses into his business? It’s just not fair, I tell you. The Trib and the Chron, which quotes a DPS spokesperson saying that the Travis County DA’s office will get this hot potato if there’s anything to it, have more.

The Rodeo had an extra clown this year

OK, it was a rodeo in Mississippi, but I wasn’t going to ruin a good headline. The point is, that clown’s name was Sid Miller.

Sid Miller

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller used a combination of taxpayer money and campaign funds to fly to Mississippi last year to compete in a rodeo for prize money, according to newly obtained records.

Miller spent nearly $2,000 in state and campaign cash on the three-day trip to Jackson, Miss., in February 2015, in the middle of last year’s legislative session, records show. He used an agriculture department credit card for the airplane flights and a campaign account card for a hotel room and a rental car.

Weeks later, he wrote a check from his campaign account to reimburse the state for the flights, according to department records.

During the trip, Miller spent two days competing in calf-roping events at the horse show at the Dixie National Rodeo, according to the Mississippi Quarter Horse Association. He won $880.

Miller did not have any scheduled meetings or events other than the horse show, according to his calendar.

“It was a personal trip so he could compete in a rodeo,” Texas Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said.

State law prohibits officeholders from using state money or campaign funds for travel that is primarily personal in nature.

Miller said the trip did not violate the law.

The agriculture commissioner acknowledged that he decided to go to Mississippi so he could compete in the horse show but said that after making that plan, he tried to set up a work meeting. He said he paid for the airplane flights with state money because he thought the meeting would happen but acknowledged it never actually was scheduled.

It was still a justifiable campaign expense, Miller said, because while at the horse show he spoke with the Mississippi agriculture commissioner and several rodeo participants and vendors who had donated to his campaign.

[…]

Ethics experts said the trip would be problematic if Miller benefited personally from state money or campaign donations.

Ross Fischer, a former Texas Ethics Commission chairman, pointed to a 1996 commission ruling that politicians cannot use even campaign money “if the primary purpose of the trip is personal.”

Buck Wood, a former state elections official, said “the fact that he ran into some people at the rodeo does not change the fact that the purpose of the trip was to compete in a rodeo.”

As noted later in the story, Miller’s office did not initially release emails relating to this trip, just as they did not originally release emails relating to his illicit trip to Oklahoma, for which a complaint has been filed. It was only later, when a more specific request that included references to the Mississippi rodeo was filed that they coughed up these emails. At this point, we have to conclude that there is a pattern of behavior here, and that Miller just can’t help himself. He’s a grifter, he’s using this office to live his best life, and what are you going to do about it? It would be nice if someone were to ask Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton that question, and it would be even nicer if one of them deigned to reply. Trail Blazers has more.

The Chron looks at Rodney Ellis

Not a very flattering look.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Over the past 26 years, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has voted to confirm gubernatorial appointments to the Lower Colorado River Authority, a powerful electric utility in Central Texas. During the same time, financial firms he either owned, worked for, or owned stock in have profited handsomely by helping underwrite $3.7 billion in bonds sold by the authority.

Ellis, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s endorsement for a seat on the Harris County Commissioners Court, has an impressive legislative record well-known to voters – 676 bills he has authored or served as the lead Senate sponsor have become law, including major reforms to Texas’ criminal justice system, schools and community colleges.

But because of Texas’ lax ethics law, much less is known about Ellis’ equally impressive career in the lucrative government bond business, which repeatedly has placed him in a position to exercise authority over local governments and public agencies whose bond proceeds were being used to pay Ellis’ firms. His dual role as lawmaker and bond underwriter has left him straddling the line between politics, municipal finance and public policy, raising questions about potential or actual conflicts of interest, or the appearance of conflicts.

Since first being elected to the Texas Senate in 1990, Ellis has been involved directly or indirectly in municipal bond deals totaling at least $50 billion in Texas, an analysis by the Houston Chronicle has found. Nearly all of those deals have involved several firms doing “underwriting” – when firms are chosen or bid to buy bonds from a government agency and then sell them to investors.

The cost of issuing government bonds is about 1 percent of the bond’s principal amount, or $1 million for every $100 million in bonds sold. About half that issuance cost, or $500,000, would go to underwriters’ fees, according to Public Sector Credit Solutions, a California-based research firm that has examined 800 bond deals nationwide since 2012.

Ellis, in recent interviews via email, said he has not violated any ethics laws and has not done anything unethical in his votes as a legislator.

“There is no connection between my votes in the Senate and any bond underwriting,” he said. “I’m a businessman, lawyer, and African-American involved in public finance. I’m proud of the fact that I’m one of the first to combine those four experiences and also have a successful legislative career at the same time.”

Asked how his involvement with firms underwriting government debt would affect his work as a Harris County commissioner, Ellis told the Chronicle that if elected, he would “sever all ties with public finance companies.”

[…]

Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a nonprofit watchdog group, has watched Ellis in action from the start of his legislative career. During that time, Ellis has taken the lead on ethics issues, from requiring more disclosure to overhauling how judicial campaigns are financed, Smith said.

“There’s the good Rodney and the bad Rodney. The good Rodney knows what needs to be done, but he also has made a lot of money off of connections, knowing who to talk to, and selling bonds,” Smith said.

There’s a lot more, so read the whole thing. There’s no allegation of any wrongdoing – indeed, as Smith notes, Sen. Ellis has been a leader on ethical issues. He’s also made money off the system as it exists, playing within the rules while also having a hand in writing those rules. How you feel about this is up to you. I’m of a mind that we imperfect human beings to office, and human beings by their nature seek to do well for themselves. What I want from my political leaders is a commitment to making things better for everyone. On that score, Sen. Ellis has a lot of accomplishments. You tell me what the rest of it means to you.