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Crime and Punishment

Stockman convicted

Turn out the lights, the party’s over.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman — a political maverick once viewed as a champion of right-wing causes — was taken into federal custody Thursday after a jury convicted him of masterminding a wide-ranging fraud scheme that diverted $1.25 million in charitable donations from wealthy conservative philanthropists to cover personal expenses and campaign debts.

After deliberating more than 15 hours over three days, the jury found Stockman guilty on 23 counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission and money laundering. The jury found him not guilty on one count of wire fraud.

Stockman, 61, of Clear Lake, who served two non-consecutive terms as a Republican congressman in separate southeast Texas districts, showed no reaction to the jury’s verdict. His wife, Patti, watched from the courtroom gallery, as did U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ruled that Stockman was a flight risk and she ordered him taken into custody by U.S. marshals. Stockman faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the fraud charges alone. Sentencing is set for Aug. 17.

I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this moment. I may have some coherent thoughts about this in a day or so, but until then let me go a little medieval Latin on you:

O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
egestatem,
potestatem
dissolvit ut glaciem.

That’s all I’ve got for now. The Trib and RG Ratcliffe, who recalls some of Stockman’s greatest hits, have more.

Orlando Sanchez is not happy with the dominatrix investigation

This case is going to challenge headline and blog post title writers for the foreseeable future.

Orlando Sanchez

Two elected Harris County officials squared off Tuesday over a bizarre case in which a top treasury official was charged in a $35,000 check kiting fraud to meet the financial demands of a dominatrix.

Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez was critical of how District Attorney Kim Ogg handled the criminal case against a top administrator in the county’s treasurer’s office, after he was arrested last week for an alleged check fraud scheme and claimed he was being blackmailed by a financial dominatrix.

“What’s disturbing to me is that the district attorney knew about the investigation six months ago,” Sanchez said Tuesday. “Neither the sheriff or the district attorney gave me a phone call—as a heads up without going into the specifics of the investigation—that there was somebody in my office being looked at.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Ogg defended the way her office handled the six-month investigation and when they alerted Sanchez.

“Because it was an ongoing investigation, we did a lot of work before any witnesses were talked to,” said said. “And that kind of investigation is never made public otherwise it is impossible to know who might be involved.”

The county’s top prosecutor said she phoned Sanchez minutes after confirming that her office was filing charges against Lueb.

See here for the background. I just want to say that “Financial Dominatrix” is going to be the name of my Liz Phair tribute band. Also, remember how I said that the last thing Sanchez would want would be for this to be a multi-day story? You’re doing it wrong, dude. Not that I don’t appreciate it, mind you.

On the matter of Sanchez’s complaint, the first thing I’d say is what if any policies are there regarding how criminal investigations into county employees like Gregory Lueb are handled? In other words, did Ogg’s office do more or less what previous DAs have done in this sort of circumstance, or was there a substantial difference?

Putting that aside for a moment, I can think of at least three reasons why Ogg might have kept this under her hat until her team was ready to file a case:

1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they needed to be sure that Sanchez himself was not in any way involved.

2. Once they have cleared Sanchez, if he knows that one of his employees is being investigated, that may cause him to act differently around them and thus possibly tip off the target of the investigation. There’s a reason this sort of information is generally kept quiet.

3. Even if you can completely trust Sanchez’s poker face, knowing that one or more of his employees is being investigated may change his perception of them, and this may persist even if the investigation winds up being dropped. He – and this is true of anyone, not just Orlando Sanchez – may have a lingering suspicion or sense of doubt, regardless of whether there was a reason for it.

So, unless Ogg violated previously accepted protocols, I see no cause for Sanchez to be upset. He was told when he needed to know, and that seems like the way to go. KUHF has more.

Stockman trial: Off to the jury

Please return a verdict.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The defense team for former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman told jurors Monday the ex- GOP lawmaker did not plot a massive fraud scheme, but said the government should have targeted two wealthy conservative donors for making illegal campaign contributions disguised as charitable gifts.

“The true motives of his donors … was to fund Stockman, his political activities and his projects without being restricted,” said attorney Charles Flood, referring to $1.25 million in tax deductible donations Stockman is accused of diverting to pay off personal and campaign costs.

Flood said investigators “believed early on this was a fraud case and they retrofitted it. They formed a conclusion and tried to back into it.”

Flood and two other defense lawyers — who are being compensated by an anonymous Stockman friend — argued that while the two-time Republican lawmaker spent some of the seed money he solicited on an array of unrelated expenses, he did not deliberately trick the donors into giving him money nor attempt to cover his tracks after the money was gone.

See here for the last update. So Stockman isn’t guilty of money laundering, just of participating in a scheme to evade campaign finance law. Unwittingly, I guess – we all know how naive he is. I got nothing. Let’s just keep going.

In closing, prosecution stressed there was no evidence to prove the defense claims that these donors meant to break the law when they made donations to what they believed were genuine charities.

In all, prosecutors questioned dozens of witnesses over three weeks of testimony — including an IRS investigator, a forensic accountant for the FBI and Stockman’s own accountant — to back their theory that between 2010 and 2014 Stockman systematically planned to use the donations money however he wanted and then lied to cover it up.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Ellersick walked the jury through a series of transactions, pointing out that Stockman, a trained accountant whom a former assistant described as a “micromanger,” stated in his own words in emails, texts and letters that he knew exactly what he was doing.

Ellersick quoted Stockman’s letter to a doubtful government minister in South Sudan, who was questioning a humanitarian donation that included a percentage fee for the former congressman. Stockman stated in the letter, “My experience is vast … I know what I am doing,” and assured the official that while some people might be untrustworthy, his reputation was impeccable. “Leopards don’t change their spots,” Stockman wrote.

As someone who has followed Steve Stockman’s career for nearly a quarter-century, I do agree with that. I’m on ping and needles till a verdict comes in. The Trib has more.

Misdemeanor diversion

Sounds good to me.

Kim Ogg

Houston’s non-violent misdemeanor offenders will soon be cleaning up trash and invasive plant species plants along Buffalo Bayou in an initiative to help offenders clear up their criminal record, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Wednesday.

The program, dubbed “Clean and Green,” has existed in several incarnations since the 1970’s and was one of Ogg’s campaign promises when she ran for DA in 2014, and again when she won in 2016.

“It’s a big reason why I ran,” the top prosecutor said Wednesday as she announced the program at the historic Allen’s Landing, a downtown recreational area on the bayou. “I wanted to ‘green’ criminal justice. I felt like our system could give back in a measurable, meaningful way. Counting the cubic tons of garbage or how many tons of plastic we pull out, it all has a public safety value.”

Misdemeanor offenders, 17 and older, will be allowed to clean up litter and invasive plants, skim waterways and perform other conservation services in public spaces across the county, especially along bayous and tributaries, according to Ogg.

Eligibility for the program, which starts this month, will be determined by prosecutors on a case-by-case basis and excludes defendants facing domestic violence, assault or weapons charges.

[…]

The initiative is expected to offer 160 offenders a month the opportunity to avoid a criminal record while reducing tax dollars currently spent on traditional prosecution and punishment of those offenders.

If selected, participants will be required to work one or two six-hours shifts. They will have to pay $240 to participate, unless they are indigent. Completion of the program fulfills the community-service requirement of pre-trial diversion contracts.

If they successfully complete the program, their criminal case will be dismissed and the arrest can be expunged, Ogg said.

I approve of all of this. This is what we should want to do with non-violent misdemeanor offenders. And yes, it’s what we voted for. Keep up the good work.

The most interesting story related to the County Treasurer’s office you may ever read

Oh, yeah.

A top administrator at the Harris County Treasurer’s Office charged with stealing money from a county credit union told investigators he was using the funds to pay off a dominatrix he met online who was trying to blackmail him, county officials said Friday.

Gregory Wayne Lueb, the second in command at the Harris County Treasurer’s Office, is accused of stealing $35,000 in a check-kiting scheme that left the Harris County Credit Union holding the bag for the cash.

Lueb told investigators he met a dominatrix —a woman who punishes men in sexual situations — named “Mistress Cindy” on a sadomasochism website in 2016.

He said the woman blackmailed him into sending her money from his personal account at the credit union by telling him he’d tell his wife of his indiscretions if he didn’t.

In announcing the felony theft charges Friday, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said “Cindy” may or may not be real, but that Lueb had been arrested for a check fraud scheme that ran between August and December 2016.

“We don’t know if the dominatrix exists or not,” Ogg said. “The more salacious points are obvious in Mr. Lueb’s admissions, but whether they are true or not is really beside the point. We know that he was stealing from Harris County employees because it’s our money in the credit union.”

[…]

Ogg said Lueb was the target of two investigations: one initiated by the DA’s office and one begun by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. The two probes were combined when investigators realized both agencies were looking into allegations of fraud that linked back to Lueb.

Ogg called for an audit of the treasurer’s office, headed by County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez.

Sanchez said Lueb did not have sole access to county funds. He said well-established safeguards and forms require multiple signatures from different department heads, so he is not worried that Lueb could have embezzled from the treasurer’s office.

“No one person in this county has the ability to move a dime,” he said. “No one person in Harris County has the authority to move money … The important thing is there’s no public funds (involved, no county money.”

Lueb has since been fired. I’ll be interested to see if there are further calls for an audit of the Treasurer’s office. I doubt there would be anything terrible to find, but having to deal with that in an election year probably does not make Orlando Sanchez happy. The last thing he wants is for this to be anything more than a one-day story.

Stockman trial update: Defense rests

And we’re done.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The defense rested its case Thursday in ex-GOP congressman Steve Stockman’s federal campaign fraud trial, after calling only two witnesses who together testified for less than an hour.

The former Republican lawmaker from Clear Lake told the judge presiding over his trial that he did not intend to testify in his own defense.

[…]

After court adjourned, Stockman’s defense team explained to reporters they would have called many more than two witnesses if the rules of evidence didn’t preclude Stockman to put on broader testimony about his reputation, work ethic and charitable work.

On Thursday, the final witness in the trial was Stevie Bidjoua Sianard-Roc, who had flown in from Africa to testify and took the stand for 38 minutes. She testified about several trips Stockman made to the Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo to meet with government ministers, discuss social issues and in one case deliver three boxes of medicine to a local hospital in which she served as his translator. In one instance, she said, Stockman donated an iPad to her husband.

“In Africa, Steve is like family to us,” Sianard-Roc told the jury.

Under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Ellersick, the Sianard-Roc said she was not aware that Stockman was also working on a deal in the region with an oil company and hoped to meet with an oil minister there.

See here for the previous update. This whole trial has been amazing, but the thing that really stands out to me is how unimpressive the defense seems to be. Maybe it just hasn’t come through in the reporting, but I haven’t seen much to rebut any of the prosecution’s evidence. The defense seems to boil down to twenty-plus-year-politician Stockman is a naive dupe, and people in Africa like him. It feels more like what you’d put on during the sentencing hearing. Like I said, maybe there was more to it than the stories conveyed. Closing arguments are Monday, and then we’ll see. What do you think?

Stockman trial update: The prosecution abides

From Monday:

Best newspaper graphic ever

The second of two key government witnesses took the stand late Monday in Houston in the federal fraud trial of former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman, telling jurors his main duty on the ex-lawmaker’s staff was to “just do what I’m told.”

[…]

On the stand Monday, [Jason] Posey told the jury he had previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.

Both [Thomas] Dodd and Posey knew Stockman through his work with the conservative Leadership Institute, an Arlington nonprofit that trains youth in grassroots organizing.

Posey, 47, who now works as a fry cook at Spuds in Tupelo, Miss., said he worked for Stockman on-and-off since his unsuccessful bid for re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996. He helped with Stockman’s failed campaign for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 1998 and lived among other volunteers in Stockman’s ramshackle campaign headquarters, a former motorcycle repair shop in Webster, during Stockman’s victorious 2012 campaign for the Congress.

Stockman then tapped him to be a congressional staffer in Washington. But when new employees were going around the room introducing themselves by their new titles at a preliminary staff meeting, Posey did not mention that he would be a liaison working on special projects.

Instead, he testified,“I stood and said, ‘I’m Jason Posey and I just do what I’m told.’”

He told the jury he knew nothing about Stockman’s major donors, although he helped the ex-congressman set up a failed charity, which Stockman later used to solicit donations, according to testimony from other witnesses.

See here for the last update. I don’t have anything to add to this, so let’s move on. From Tuesday:

After two and a half years dodging federal investigators by fleeing to Egypt, former congressional aide Jason Posey came to the painful realization that his boss, two-time Republican congressman Steve Stockman, was going to blame him for the elaborate fraud scheme they had orchestrated, he told a federal jury Tuesday.

“He told me, ‘You’re going to take the blame for everything’ and he was going to run for office,” Posey testified, adding that Stockman promised to look after him after Posey was convicted. “That was when I realized that I had been a complete fool for trusting Mr. Stockman and he never intended to keep his pledge.”

That pledge, according to Posey, was that if their questionable use of charitable donations came to light Stockman “would come clean about everything” and protect him and another devoted congressional staffer.

[…]

During Stockman’s successful 2012 campaign for the House of Representatives and his failed 2014 bid to unseat Texas Republican John Cornyn for Senate, Posey said he helped filter charitable donations to conservative 501c3 nonprofit groups. Posey testified he helped Stockman set up sham charities and associated bank accounts, which Stockman directed him to use to pay off campaign expenses and personal debts.

He wrote checks, set up bank accounts and moved the money, as Stockman told him, into shadowy charities, including one called the Egyptian American Friendship Society and another entitled Life Without Limits, supposedly dedicated to helping people recover from trauma, so the spending would look like it was coming from charitable groups, according to his testimony.

You really have to admire the dedication to these schemes. There’s no length Stockman (allaegedly) wouldn’t go to for the money. Imagine how much he could have gotten done if he’d applied that kind of work ethic to something productive.

And finally, from Wednesday, when the prosecution finished and the defense got started.

The prosecution ended its case by calling back to the stand FBI Special Agent Leanna Saler, to explain to the jury how Stockman used Bitcoin to forward funds to Posey who had fled to Egypt to avoid investigators and the purchases of so-called “burner phones” which were used to discuss an improper campaign donation, according to Posey’s testimony. Both were difficult for law enforcement to trace, Saler testified.

Defense lawyer Sean Buckley asked whether the Bitcoin transactions were charged in Stockman’s indictment. Saler said no. The ATM withdrawals Stockman made in Switzerland and Cairo were also not included in the charges, she testified.

Under further questioning from Buckley, the agent stated that the FBI never investigated the two mega-donors who gave Stockman the charitable contributions that were later diverted to pay personal and campaign editors.

After the government ended its presentation, Stockman’s lawyers called Callie Beck as their first witness to begin their defense of the charges. The court adjourned shortly after Beck’s testimony to await the expected arrival of another witness who Stockman’s lawyers said was flying in from the Republic of Congo to testify about the GOP lawmakers work shipping medicine to developing countries.

Beck was on the stand less than 10 minutes in all, detailing what she did during a summer program Stockman paid for with a charitable donation. She said the Summit, a two-week camp in Colorado run by a Christian organization, involved lectures and team building for youths before entering college.

Under cross examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Annis, Beck acknowledged she was not familiar with Freedom House, a housing and training program for Capitol Hill interns.

Yes of course I blogged about it when Stockman announced he would accept Bitcoin for his campaign. I mean, come on. The defense is expected to take just a couple of days, with the case wrapping up early next week. I can’t wait to see what this other witness has to say.

This is not how you secure elections

This is atrocious.

If she had known it was illegal, Crystal Mason said she would have never cast a vote in the 2016 presidential election.

The 43-year-old former tax preparer hadn’t even planned on voting until her mother encouraged her to do it. She had only recently been released from federal prison for a 2012 tax fraud conviction, in which she pleaded guilty to inflating returns for her clients, her attorney, J. Warren St. John, told The Washington Post.

She was still on community supervision at the time of the election — but no one, including her probation officer, St. John said, ever told her that being a felon on supervision meant she couldn’t vote under Texas law.

Now, she’s going back to prison for casting a ballot illegally — for five years.

Mason was indicted on a charge of illegal voting in Tarrant County, Tex., last year and found guilty by State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez on Thursday, despite her protestations that she simply was not aware that she was barred from casting a ballot and never would have done it had she known.

As she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at the time she was indicted: “You think I would jeopardize my freedom? You honestly think I would ever want to leave my babies again? That was the hardest thing in my life to deal with. Who would — as a mother, as a provider — leave their kids over voting?”

Both the Trib story and the Star-Telegram story contain tough-guy quotes from Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton, beating their chests about fighting vote fraud. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also a travesty. How does putting this woman in jail for FIVE YEARS serve justice in any way? If we treated white-collar crime with this kind of ferocity, no one would ever get scammed again. For that matter, if we took election security this seriously, no one would ever worry about Russians or hackers again. We sure have some screwed-up priorities.

Stockman trial update: Tanning salons and dolphin boat rides

I love this trial so much. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, about the grifter we all deserve.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman spent $450,000 in charitable funds from an East Coast philanthropist on personal expenses including dolphin boat rides, tanning salons, a kennel bill, a new dishwasher and airline tickets to the African nation of Sudan, according to an FBI forensic accountant who testified Wednesday in Stockman’s fraud trial.

In all, the ex-Republican lawmaker from Clear Lake is charged in a federal indictment with siphoning off $1.25 million in donations meant for charitable causes, between 2010 and 2014, through a series of bank transfers, to pay personal and campaign costs.

Stockman’s defense lawyers counter that while Stockman may not have spent his funds wisely, he didn’t break the law. His defense team has grilled a series of prosecution witnesses from the IRS and FBI about why they didn’t investigate the major donors about the intent behind their major transactions.

[…]

An FBI accountant followed the path Rothschild’s money took in Stockman’s possession, including credit card bills for trips, department store expenses and SkyMall purchases.

See here, here, and here for earlier updates. The only thing better than the witness testimony has been the defense’s explanations of the testimony. Who among us hasn’t accidentally used a few thousand dollars intended for charity – really, more like “charity” in this case – for kennel bills and Skymall purchases? Could happen to anyone, really.

And that was just Wednesday. Here’s Thursday.

Thomas Dodd, a top aide to former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman, spent six hours on the witness stand at his ex-boss’ fraud trial Thursday, explaining how he was instructed to land big donations from heavyweight contributors, help funnel that money into shell accounts and then assist in an elaborate coverup.

[…]

He told the jury his role during Stockman’s political ascent was to help set up meetings with some of the country’s biggest GOP donors. During part of this time, Dodd himself was often deep in debt and lived for a time in a former motorcycle repair shop in Webster that served as Stockman’s campaign headquarters.

Dodd testified about a series of donations, money transfers and trips spanning the globe that he made on Stockman’s behalf.

There were two conservative megadonors who wrote the checks that prosecutors say financed the spending spree. The biggest was Richard Uihlein, a shipping supplies magnate from the Chicago area who gave $800,000, and Stanford Z. Rothschild Jr., a Baltimore money manager who died in 2017, who gave $450,000. Prosecutors say the donations went to charities controlled by Stockman, some of which did not qualify as nonprofits despite he promises to donors.

Dodd helped arrange meetings with donors, attended them with Stockman and followed up on collecting the funds. He testified that Stockman repeatedly assured Uihlein his donation would go toward establishing Freedom House, a house on Capitol Hill that would be converted as a residence and training center for young conservatives.

Similarly, Dodd said, Stockman promised Rothschild at the meetings and in related correspondence his foundation’s money would be spent targeting conservative voters with tabloid-style mailings that would promote their shared conservative policy agenda.

Within days of depositing Rothschild’s donation checks, Stockman began paying off old credit card bills, Dodd testified.

[…]

After Uihlein’s $350,000 donation cleared the bank, Stockman asked Dodd and Posey, the other aide who pleaded guilty, to donate to his campaign account, according to Dodd’s testimony. Stockman said he couldn’t donate to himself as a sitting congressman, but he would give his aides money to write him checks, Dodd said.

Dodd testified that he told Stockman he also couldn’t make a donation under federal election law, explaining to Stockman he had just learned in the House ethics training that staffers cannot donate to their member of congress.

Dodd said Stockman told him not to worry.

“Mr. Stockman explained that no one would find out, and if someone did find out about it, he would take the fall,” Dodd said.

First of all, like I said, “charity”. Second, I don’t know that this qualifies as an “elaborate” coverup. The villains in the Scooby-Do cartoons had more intricate schemes. More likely to succeed, too. There’s a punchline to this story that I won’t spoil – go click over and read the Chron article to the end.

I don’t see any updates from Friday, but Courthouse News has more on Dodd’s testimony, including this curious exchange from the cross examination:

During cross-examination, Stockman’s attorney tried to portray Stockman as an ambitious, hapless man who often gets in over his head.

“Would you agree that Stockman can be prone to biting off bigger projects than he can chew?” Buckley asked.

“That’s correct,” Dodd said.

“Would you agree that Stockman, in many situations, or in some situations, has genuinely good ideas that somehow fail in the follow-through stage? You agree with that, right?” Buckley asked.

“I don’t know if I agree with that characterization,” Dodd said.

“Do you disagree?”

“Yes.”

“Explain, sir, why you disagree.”

“Because I’ve known Mr. Stockman for a fair number of years. I met him after he ran for Congress the first time, but my understanding was that he did something significant with organizing to get elected to Congress the first time,” Dodd said.

He continued: “When I was at the Leadership Institute he mobilized 1,000 college groups; he had 100 people working for him that were organizing these groups. It was a monumental task and it was a significant achievement for the organization. So I wouldn’t characterize that he has not been successful in organizing things that people didn’t think were possible.”

Stockman first worked with Dodd from 2005 to 2007 at the conservative Leadership Institute, as director of its campus leadership program.

You know that old adage about lawyers not asking questions they don’t already know the answers to? This is an example of why that’s a thing. There’s still another week of this trial to go. My cup runneth over. TPM has more.

The prosecution keeps piling on Steve Stockman

From Monday:

Best newspaper graphic ever

A fundraising director who quit and returned most of his salary after four days as an employee of ex-U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman characterized the work environment as “horrific” for Washington, D.C., interns, according to his testimony in the second week of the former Republican lawmaker’s fraud trial in a Houston federal court.

A crew of volunteer interns worked in a cramped office making as many as 2,000 fundraising calls all day — at a lobbying firm rather than the congressman’s office — and had to hustle to find their own summer lodging, according to Sean McMahon, the short-lived fundraising director.

“The situation with interns is horrific,” McMahon wrote — before the interns began at the lobbying firm office — in an email entered as evidence in the case. “Every single one of them believes they are having a normal ‘Hill internship.’ This is not the case.”

[…]

Among more than a dozen witnesses Monday was Stockman’s former secretary on Capitol Hill, Kristine Nichols. She said before she started at his office the congressman said she had to take a mandatory ethics course. Everyone did.

Nichols testified she asked Stockman, who had been a friend before she was hired, whether he took the course, too.

“He said he wasn’t planning to go because then they might hold him to the rules,” she said.

Ouch. See here and here for earlier updates. I’m not sure what this was intended to establish other than the fact that nobody seems to like Steve Stockman, but I’m here for it anyway. There was some more testimony about his attempt to “sting” State Rep. James White as well.

And from Tuesday.

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman recruited top officials from the Egyptian defense ministry to help solicit a $30 million donation from an international cement company facing legal trouble, according to testimony in the second week of the GOP lawmaker’s federal corruption trial.

Stockman claimed the funds would go toward educating Americans about the historic importance of Egypt and the Middle East, or perhaps toward shipping medical supplies to Egypt and Africa, a witness testified Tuesday.

The hefty donation from CEMEX, an international cement company founded in Mexico, apparently never materialized. But prosecutors say the aide who helped arrange Stockman’s trip to Egypt to meet with officials was paid with money from another donation Stockman solicited for another of his pet causes. He had told an investor he wanted to establish Freedom House, a facility for conservative Capitol Hill interns in Washington, D.C.

The government lawyers say these trips and expenditures demonstrate how Stockman took hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations, and rather than spending it as promised, he used it to enrich himself. The former GOP lawmaker from Clear Lake is on trial for 28 criminal counts related to syphoning off major donation funds to cover his own personal and political debts in what the government lawyers called a “white collar crime spree.”

But Stockman’s defense team contends that testimony about the Egypt trip and about donation money Stockman funneled into a surveillance project tracking a presumed political opponent at the state capitol amount to meritless theatrics aimed at swaying the jury.

“It’s a time-consuming effort to make Mr. Stockman look like he’s involved in a bunch of shady stuff, none of which is charged in the indictment,” said attorney Sean Buckley.

If your defense is that the prosecution is spending too much time on shady stuff your client did that he wasn’t charged with, I’m thinking you have a tough road ahead. All this and the two Stockman aides who took pleas still haven’t testified.

The Stockman trial gets weird

I mean, with Steve Stockman you have to expect some weird crap, but I didn’t see this coming.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The American Phoenix Foundation — a now-defunct conservative activist groupknown for attempting undercover stings of lawmakers and lobbyists — planted an intern in a Texas state lawmaker’s office during the 2013 legislative session in an effort to expose misdeeds, testimony in federal court revealed Thursday.

Shaughn Adeleye, testifying in Houston in the federal fraud case against former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, said in court Thursday that he was planted in the office of state Rep. James White to obtain footage of the Hillister Republican engaged in “fraud and abuse” and also in more mundane activities like cursing or failing to tidy his messy car, according to Quorum Report.

Stockman funded that effort in an attempt to uncover “salacious” gossip about a perceived political rival, according to testimony Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reported. The former congressman stands accused of illegally using charitable donations to cover political and personal expenses, among a total of 28 criminal charges.

Stockman was concerned that White would give up his state House seat to challenge him for Congress. “Republicans love black conservatives. I’m worried,” Stockman fretted in a text to a political ally, according to testimony Thursday.

Adeleye told prosecutors Thursday that he accepted the undercover job because he was told he’d be ferreting out corruption, but it ultimately became clear his supervisors were hoping for embarrassing material about White, who is the only black Republican in the Legislature. He was told “a good video of [White] saying anything crazy would be ideal,” according to an email shown in court.

“These were just such odd requests,” Adeleye said Thursday.

The American Phoenix Foundation filmed Texas lobbyists and lawmakers back in 2015, and the group’s membership has ties to James O’Keefe, a conservative political activist infamous for his shady tactics.

See here for yesterday’s update. I recall State Rep. White’s name being bounced around as a possible CD36 candidate for a hot second or two, but it never gained any traction, in part because he wasn’t interested and in part because Stockman went off on his quest to unseat Sen. John Cornyn in that primary. Given that Stockman basically cruised to a win in the crowded 2012 race for CD36 on the strength of his residual name ID and that James White was a two-term State Rep who I’d venture to guess was widely unknown, this hair-brained scheme to discredit him – which among other things would surely have done wonders for Rep. White’s name ID – shows an impressive level of paranoia, even for the likes of Stockman. The scheme itself makes Jerry Lundegaard and Carl Showalter look like super geniuses, and I am here for it. This trial has more than lived up to my expectations, and the defense hasn’t even begun to present its case. The Chron – check the URL for that story, it’s pure gold – has more.

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.

Sen. Uresti convicted on fraud charges

Time to resign.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

The courtroom was silent and thick with anxiety Thursday morning as the judge’s deputy read the verdicts: “Guilty,” “guilty,” “guilty” — 11 times over, and on all felony counts.

State Sen. Carlos Uresti sat stone-faced, his gaze directed at the deputy, as he heard the ruling that throws into question his two-decade career in the Texas Legislature and opens up the possibility more than a century in federal prison and millions of dollars in fines.

If upheld on appeal, the 11 felony charges — including multiple counts of fraud and money laundering — would render the San Antonio Democrat ineligible to continue serving as a state legislator. Uresti, an attorney by trade, would also be disbarred.

Uresti has no immediate plans to step down from his seat in the state Senate, he said minutes after the verdict. And he will “absolutely” appeal the jury’s decision.

[…]

There were no calls for resignation among state lawmakers immediately after the verdict, but Texas Democrats issued an immediate rebuke of the senator Thursday morning, saying “no one is ever above the law.”

“After being found guilty of such serious crimes, Senator Uresti must seriously consider whether he can serve his constituents,” Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Tariq Thowfeek said.

And state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, another San Antonio Democrat, said that elected officials are “held to a higher standard.”

“Over the next few weeks we need to have a serious discussion as constituents and taxpayers about how we move forward and turn the page,” he said. Gutierrez, whose district overlaps with Uresti’s, could be eyeing the senator’s seat.

See here and here for some background. You can have that “serious discussion” about moving forward and turning the page if you want, but it should happen in conjunction with Sen. Uresti resigning, which frankly he should have done months ago, for other reasons. As such, I’m glad to see this.

“In light of today’s jury conviction of Sen. Carlos Uresti, the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is calling upon Sen. Uresti to resign his position,” caucus chair Sen. José Rodriguez said in a statement.

[…]

“Voters in this time and age want people who have at least so far [demonstrated] good judgements,” said Leticia Van De Putte, former Democratic senator for Texas’ District 26. “All I know is that if the defense is ‘Well I didn’t know this was wrong,’ it’s very difficult to go back and ask people to vote for you.”

[SMU political science professor Cal] Jillson agreed: “He might find that his political career is ended because of this, and it will provide political opportunities for others.”

Van de Putte served in the Texas Senate from 1999 to 2015, overlapping nine years with Uresti, who won his senate seat in 2006.

“I’m heartbroken at the situation,” said Van de Putte, who later co-founded a consulting firm. “I know Sen. Uresti … has been an amazing champion for abused children. I worked with him on a number of efforts, he’s done great work in the Legislature.

“No one will remember all the great work he did. They’ll remember this case.”

[…]

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) released a statement Thursday, saying elected officials are “held to a higher trust” and that constituents and taxpayers would have to “move forward and turn the page.”

Political analyst Harold Cook, who has worked in the Texas House of Representatives and as an advisor to Democrats in the Texas Senate, said Gutierrez’s tone implies he’s vying for Uresti’s seat.

“This is what I would have written for somebody [who is] already going to be a candidate,” Cook told the Rivard Report. “Senate districts don’t come up often and they’re not open often.”

District 19 is one of the biggest senate districts in the country, Cook said. “There are a lot of Democrats holding office in those counties [who] would love to be state senator.”

There are others mentioned the story, and I’m sure the list will be long when and if it comes to it. But first, we need Uresti to resign. Step down now, so we can get someone else in place as soon as possible and so we don’t face the prospect of not just one but TWO incumbent legislators going to jail, perhaps during the next session. Among the many things that I hope we’ve learned from the #MeToo movement is the concept that no one is so important or accomplished that they must be shielded from being held accountable from their actions. Please do the right thing here, Senator. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.

Investigating the Karolyis

I’m fine with this, but I feel like we’re overlooking something.

Nearly a week after prominent USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for the sexual assault of several female gymnasts, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate misconduct allegations at the famed Karolyi Ranch, the U.S. Olympic training facility in southeast Texas, north of Houston, where Nassar treated athletes.

“The public statements made by athletes who previously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Those athletes, as well as all Texans, deserve to know that no stone is left unturned to ensure that the allegations are thoroughly vetted and the perpetrators and enablers of any such misconduct are brought to justice. The people of Texas demand, and the victims deserve, nothing less.”

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office confirmed last week that it was looking into the ranch.

Abbott added that the Texas Rangers, the state’s top criminal investigative unit, and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office must collaborate on the case because of the far reach of the allegations, which are spread across jurisdictions and state lines.

There’s more in the Chron, where we find out that Simone Biles is ready to speak to investigators about the assaults she endured. It’s appropriate ti have the Rangers help out with this investigation, as I’m sure they have more resources and experience than the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, and of course we want all of the facts to come out so that everyone responsible can be held to that responsibility.

At the same time, though, I think we need to look past the criminal aspect of this and really ask ourselves how this was happening for nearly 20 years without anything being done about it. Among other things, maybe we need to have a good hard look at how the Karolyis operated for all these years and ask ourselves why we didn’t see the potential for problems all along. The isolation, the dictatorial methods, the extreme pressure on young girls to conform and submit to an absolute authority – is it any wonder a monster was able to flourish under those conditions? Yet as recently as 2016, in the runup to the Summer Olympics, the Karolyis were still the subject of fawning coverage; a lawsuit alleging they had a role in the Nasser scandal – he was forced out of US Gymnastics in 2015, you know – followed a couple of months later. But even before that, former gymnasts led by Dominique Moceanu had been sounding an alarm about their training methods; she was vindicated by an investigator last year. We were warned, well ahead of this recent news. We need to understand why we didn’t heed those warnings.

The next frontier in criminal justice reform

We need to lock up fewer kids for bad reasons.

Hundreds of juveniles are jailed in Harris County often for weeks at a time for infractions as minor as failing drugs tests, violating curfews, running away or failing to attend school classes or rehabilitative programs, according to county records.

The records show a “pattern and practice” of detaining juveniles for technical violations that should instead be handled through the probation system, according to attorneys and juvenile justice advocates.

“You’re not complying with the terms of probation, but you’re not actually a risk to public safety,” said Elizabeth Henneke, an attorney with the Lone Star Justice Alliance, which advocates against incarcerating juvenile offenders.

“You never want to have a technical violation, especially for a kid, result in detention, because we know the negative effects,” she said. “Even a short amount of time can be problematic for kids, but long, protracted, weeks out of school, weeks out of your home environment – that can have really big consequences for them.”

Of the 1,055 juveniles cited for a probation violation in 2016, nearly 73 percent were detained, a proportion Henneke said is alarming, particularly in a county where the 250-capacity juvenile justice center has faced recurrent overcrowding problems for several years.

It is the largest percentage of juveniles ordered detained on probation violations since at least 2003, when 69 percent of 1,502 juveniles were detained, according to data from the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department.

The most recent 2017 data, which goes through Oct. 15, shows that 73 percent of juveniles continued to be jailed for probation violations – an average of 55 kids each day.

The average length of time spent behind bars on the violations ranged from nine days for leaving the county without permission to 30 days for violating special probationary terms, which can include specific judge-ordered requirements such as routine drug assessments or compliance with taking medication.

The Trib then went and wrote an even longer story on the same topic.

“Harris County is bucking the trend,” said Michele Deitch, an attorney and senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in Texas juvenile justice policy. “All around the country, and certainly all around the state, the numbers are down in detention.

“The need for the beds just isn’t there anymore,” Deitch said. “So the idea that this one county is experiencing an increase … that should raise a lot of questions.”

The overcrowding affects kids and families far beyond the Houston area: It is one reason lawmakers decided not to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18 last year. Seventeen-year-olds accused of crimes in Texas are usually sent to an adult county jail; the “raise the age” bill would have made them part of the juvenile justice system instead.

Harris County’s juvenile probation chief, Tom Brooks, said the detention center’s overcrowding is mostly due to “a high number of egregious offenders” — kids accused of crimes like armed robbery and assault — who often stay in detention longer.

Brooks added that the county has worked hard to stop unnecessarily locking up kids. Last year, nearly 2,000 fewer kids were booked into detention compared to 2010, according to county data. The ones that are left “actually are here for a legitimate reason, and their due process takes longer,” Brooks said.

But data obtained by The Texas Tribune — along with interviews with experts, parents and advocates — suggest there’s more to the story. Local officials might blame the overcrowding on bad kids, but experts say it’s more about a bad system in Harris County, where local officials plan to build a new juvenile detention center at an estimated cost of $65-70 million.

The data from Harris County’s juvenile probation department shows:

  • The average number of kids held in the detention center charged with minor offenses such as trespass, theft and violating probation — things that some experts say shouldn’t land kids behind bars at all — increased by 64 percent from 2010 to 2017. Meanwhile, the average number held for violent crimes like armed robbery and rape, called “felonies against persons,” increased by about 46 percent.
  • Minor offenders were locked up in the detention center for an average of nearly three weeks in 2017, twice as long as in 2010.
  • From 2010 to 2017, the average number of African-American youth held in the juvenile detention center more than doubled, and the number detained despite being labeled “low risk” has increased by 75 percent.

Experts say this is an unusual trend when it comes to juvenile justice. It’s becoming widely accepted that imprisoning kids — and even adults — for low-level crimes is probably doing more harm than good. Taking someone away from their home and school for a minor offense like shoplifting, and placing them alongside those accused of far more serious crimes, is bad for the child and for society, they say.

“Anytime you disrupt the kids’ routine, you take them out of the home, away from whatever stable influences they have … It’s not a good situation,” Deitch said. She added that the Harris County data suggests “there’s something very punitive going on.”

Michael Schneider, one of the judges who handles juvenile delinquency cases in Harris County, expressed concern after seeing the data. “Why is the increase in detention greater than the increase in violent crime?” he asked.

Paul Holland, an associate law professor at Seattle University who studies national juvenile justice policy, called what’s happening in Harris County “alarming.” He said the trend in detention there can’t just be blamed on an increase in violent crime; local decisions are probably having an impact, too.

“It really does seem like it’s a system thing and not a kid thing,” Holland said.

There’s a whole lot more, go read it. So just to review:

1) These kids were on probation, meaning they had committed lesser offenses to begin with.
2) They were put in jail for breaking a rule, not a law. Kids do break rules sometimes. It’s what kids do.
3) Putting kids in jail leads to all kinds of bad effects, from missed school to exposing them to real criminals to endangering their safety.
4) It costs money to detain and guard these kids, and detaining them does nothing to further the rehabilitative efforts that probation was supposed to foster.
5) Anyone want to bet that the kids who do get detained for probation violations will turn out to be disproportionately black and Latino?

Let’s do less of this, okay? And if you’re looking for a political solution, remember the names of Juvenile Court Judges Glenn Devlin and John Phillips, both Republicans and both on the ballot this year. Different judges will be our best shot at getting different results.

Looking to hire more cops for Houston

We’ll see about this.

The head of the Houston police union announced Wednesday that city leaders had pledged to grow the Houston Police Department ranks by 500 officers over the next five years, far fewer than the city’s police chief said he needs.

“It’s no secret the Houston Police Department has been doing more with less, for far too long,” HPOU President Joseph Gamaldi said Wednesday afternoon at a crowded news conference at union headquarters.

The influx of officers would still be a fraction of the 2,000 new officers Chief Art Acevedo has said he believes the department needs to deal with the city’s growth, but comes as Houston has struggled for years to meaningfully increase the staffing in the department.

Gamaldi’s initiative, which the union is calling the “Drive for 500,” came after union officials visited all of the city’s council members, as well as Mayor Sylvester Turner, and asked them to pledge their support to increase the department that has nearly 5,200 officers on the job.

[…]

Currently, the HPD operates on a yearly budget of $827 million, and it costs the department around $3 million to run each class of recruits through its in-house academy.

The call for more officers comes as the city management last year had to close a $130 million budget shortfall.

The staffing proposal follows a concerted campaign last year to reform the city’s pension system, which officials warned was underfunded and threatened the city’s long-term financial health.

Meanwhile, Chief Acevedo and Gamaldi have stepped up calls for an large infusion of new officers into the department, saying it is dangerously understaffed, particularly compared to other large cities around the country.

Though Houston has fewer police officers per resident than other large cities, I remain unconvinced that we need to go on a hiring spree. At the very least, I’d like to understand what the plan is for a larger force. HPD’s solve rate isn’t so hot, so if the idea is to staff up on investigators with the goal of closing out more cases, then I can be on board with that. If it’s more like hire now and figure it out later, I’ll take a pass.

As the story suggests, hiring more cops would likely be part of the argument to alter or lift the revenue cap. Not my preferred approach, but I admit I’m not representative on this. I am ready for this argument to be fully rolled out, in anticipation of a vote this year.

Chris Oliver gets sentenced

Goodbye.

Chris Oliver

A former Houston Community College trustee was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on Monday after a judge said he accepted more than a quarter million dollars in bribes in exchange for his influence over contract work with the college.

In the sentencing, U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore asked Chris Oliver if his conduct was “standard procedure” for HCC trustees and asked if the college was a “cesspool.”

“The line is definitely blurred,” he said. “You don’t come from wealth. You’re in an elected position. Things are thrown at you.”

[…]

Gilmore said he served in his position for “too long” as his integrity eroded.

Oliver agreed and said he should not have sought re-election in 2011. “I probably should have called it a career.”

See here for the background. I’ll note that Oliver ran for City Council in 2015, so at least we dodged that bullet. Things may indeed be thrown at elected officials, but most of them manage to not get convicted of bribery charges. I’m just saying. HCC says it has implemented procedures and checks to prevent actions like Oliver’s in the future. I think it’s safe to say that remains to be seen.

No Paxton trial till prosecutor pay case resolved

It’s not on the court calendar at this time.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s fraud trials have been put on hold as the lawyers pursuing the criminal charges against him fight for years of back pay.

Judge Robert Johnson has taken Paxton’s three criminal cases off his docket for now, the court confirmed to The Dallas Morning News on Friday. While court staff did not have a reason for the removal, the three attorneys prosecuting Paxton have repeatedly asked for the cases to be halted while they fight to have their pay resumed.

The delay will almost certainly push Paxton’s trials into general election season, when he will be seeking another term as the state’s top lawyer. In July, Paxton’s indictments will turn three years old.

[…]

“The (Paxton) case is kind of waiting to go to trial based on [the CCA’s] decision,” said Larry Meyers, a Democrat who lost his seat on the criminal court last year. “About six weeks would probably be a fairly responsible time for them to get an opinion out.”

The Court of Criminal Appeals won’t take up the prosecutors’ case until January 10, so a decision could be issued just before voters go to the polls in the March 6 primary elections. If the court sides with the prosecutors, jury selection in Houston will likely proceed without much further delay. If it doesn’t, the prosecutors have threatened to step down, a move which will temporarily derail the case against Paxton as the county looks for replacement lawyers.

See here for the background. If the CCA rules for the prosecutors, figure on the trial beginning in late spring or early summer. If not, figure on something like the third of never. Let’s hope for the best.

Kim Ogg’s first year as DA

I certainly approve of the job DA Kim Ogg has done so far.

Kim Ogg

The accomplishment Kim Ogg is most proud of after her first year as Harris County District Attorney was not implementing a new drug policy, energizing the division that holds police officers accountable or working to ensure victims’ rights.

It’s that the prosecutor’s office was able to stay open round the clock during Hurricane Harvey and in the weeks of the storm’s aftermath. More than 50 inches of water flooded courthouses and displaced the 24-hour intake division, the critical group which decides whether to accept charges presented by police officers and keeps track of who was arrested and why.

“I’m proudest of my employees because they maintained constant operations, 24/7, throughout the biggest natural disaster in Houston’s history,” she said earlier this monthin a wide ranging interview about her first year as district attorney. “We survived the storm surge.”

Ogg, a 56-year-old native Houstonian, became Harris County’s third female district attorney Jan. 1 after besting incumbent Devon Anderson in the November 2016 general election. The Democrat is Houston’s first openly gay DA although it rarely comes up. Unlike Annise Parker, Houston’s mayor from 2010 to 2016, who was well-known in politics because of her LGBT activism, Ogg was known for her criminal justice work, including running the city’s first gang task force, then helming CrimeStoppers of Houston. Ogg’s sexual orientation came up during last year’s campaign when Anderson labeled her a “liberal, pro-choice, lesbian” in an interview.

It was during that campaign that Ogg promised an administration that would champion drug reform, diversion courts and holding police officers accountable, all of which seem to be moving forward.

And that’s the key – Ogg promised a lot of changes, and she has made measurable progress on the things she has promised. Nowhere in the story is there a question about or exploration of something she hasn’t gotten around to yet. Some things will inevitably go wrong, and there will be issues on which her office faces stronger resistance from groups like the police and the bail bondsmen, and when that happens she and her crew will be tested in new ways. But at this point I can’t think of anything I’d have wanted her to do differently. Go read the rest, and to Kim Ogg and the DA’s office I say keep up the good work.

CCA to review Paxton prosecutors pay case

Good.

Best mugshot ever

The state’s highest criminal court agreed Wednesday to take a closer look at prosecutors’ long-running fight to get paid for their handling of the securities fraud case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The move by the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals could have a major impact on the separate case against Paxton. The prosecutors have suggested they will bail if they cannot get paid, likely imperiling the more than two-year case against the state’s top lawyer.

“We are gratified but not surprised by the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision to formally hear this landmark proceeding, one that impacts trial judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys across Texas,” the prosecutors said in a statement Wednesday.

Prosecutors asked the Court of Criminal Appeals in September to reverse a ruling from a lower court that voided a six-figure invoice for work that goes back to January 2016. The prosecutors said the decision by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals — spurred by a legal challenge to the invoice by Collin County commissioners — was a “clear abuse of discretion.”

Days after the prosecutors appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals in September, it put the lower-court ruling on hold. But the court waited until Wednesday — nearly two months later — to announce its decision to review the ruling.

See here and here for the background. All of this jousting over paying for the prosecutors has pushed the trial back into 2018, with the next court date awaiting the disposal of this case. You know how I feel about this, so let’s hope for once that the CCA’s infamous pro-prosecutor tendencies will be a force for good for once. The Chron has more.

It’s about the domestic violence

You want to do something to reduce gun violence, here’s the place to start.

Domestic violence cases have risen sharply across the state, with more than 210,000 wives, girlfriends, husbands and others suffering death or injury at the hands of a family member in the past two years. More than 550 wives or girlfriends were killed by a domestic partner between 2012 and 2016, according to state figures.

“We continue to underestimate the reach and devastation of domestic violence,” said Gloria Aguilera Terry, chief executive of the Texas Council on Family Violence. “Domestic violence thrives in the silence and obliviousness we give it. Only when we confront the very conditions which allow domestic violence to exist will our homes, public spaces and places of worship be truly safe.”

[…]

Despite law enforcement’s best efforts to curb the violence, the deaths continue unabated. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Science recorded 229 domestic violence homicides from 2010 to 2016, or an average of 31 homicides a year.

Of those, at least 22 – about 10 percent – were relatives of the main victim.

Amanda Johnson, with the Dallas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Guns Sense in America, said the shooting underscores the need for smarter gun laws.

“People violent enough to be violent enough with their own children and spouses are also violent enough to commit mass murder,” she said. “When they have easy access to these weapons, it’s a really deadly combination.”

She and other advocates hope the Sutherland Springs shooting will spark a national dialogue, particularly with the daily abuse many women face that doesn’t draw the same scrutiny as a mass shooting.

“Up until now, the media would lose interest in a shooting once they found out it was a domestic violence incident and not a ‘real’ crime,” Johnson said. “Sutherland Springs is a game-changer.”

Sherri Kendall, CEO of Aid to Victims of Domestic Violence, said approximately 1 in 4 women experiences domestic violence at one point or another.

“While we are seeing a number of multiple homicides with domestic violence in the timeline, it is happening all the time,” she said. “We have to learn something from it. When this story is over we have to continue to be vigilant in our communities to make sure there are services for survivors and for perpetrators.”

The Sutherland Springs shooting highlighted the need to ensure domestic abusers can’t possess firearms, advocates said.

“This man had a history of abuse, and he should not have had access to a firearm, and we are advocating for stricter gun laws when it comes to being the hands of convicted abusers,” said Chau Nguyen, chief marketing officer at the Houston Area Women’s Center. “If we don’t take action, we’re going to see this as a recurring reality in our lives – and we know the link between domestic violence abusers and mass shooters.”

The link between domestic violence and gun violence is very strong. It’s not just the guys who commit the big headline-grabbing mass murders who depressingly and consistently turn out to have had a history of domestic violence, it’s the everyday (literally, every day) three-to-six people killings that no one outside those affected pay attention to because we’re all mesmerized by the latest double-digit massacre. There are many things we could do to ameliorate this if we wanted to. My advice would be to elect more people who do want to do something about it.

About that lost evidence

Sorry about that.

Mark Herman

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has sent notices to lawyers in 10,000 closed criminal cases that evidence, which was kept in storage, may have been lost or destroyed between 2007 and 2016.

The bulk of the emails, which were sent Wednesday to lawyers for about 7,750 defendants, caused an uproar among defense attorneys but left Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman scratching his head.

“We’ve already been through this,” Herman said Wednesday. “This all stems from a year and half ago. It’s old news.”

[…]

“Upon learning that evidence may have been lost or destroyed while in the custody of law enforcement, it was our duty to conduct a thorough review, which included manually going through thousands of records to determine which cases may have been affected,” according to a statement released Wednesday from the District Attorney’s Office. “After the recent completion of that process, it was also our duty to notify all defendants and defense lawyers involved.”

Since each of the 10,484 cases has been resolved, defense lawyers are scrambling to figure out what evidence may have been destroyed and when. If the evidence was destroyed before the case was resolved, it could be grounds for an appeal. If the case is being appealed, the destruction of evidence could hamper those proceedings.

See here, here, and here for the background. This may be old news in a sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s been resolved. I don’t see any reason why we would have considered it closed last year, without Kim Ogg getting a chance to review everything after she got elected. If this causes problems, the reason for those problems goes back a lot farther than last year. Better to make sure everything we know about what happened comes out, and then we can be done with it.

Background checks

This should make you angry.

A mistake by U.S. Air Force officials in reporting Devin Patrick Kelley’s past conviction for domestic violence allowed him to buy four guns, including the semi-automatic rifle used in the Sunday shooting at a South Texas church that left 26 dead and 20 others wounded, state and federal officials confirmed Monday.

Pentagon officials that had Kelley’s 2012 conviction in a military court for assaulting his then-wife and stepson been reported correctly to a national database used in clearing people to buy guns, the 26-year-old New Braunfels man would have been denied permission to buy the weapons.

Retired Col. Don Christensen, who was the chief prosecutor for the Air Force at the time of Kelley’s general court-martial, said that while Kelley’s punitive discharge — a bad conduct discharge — would not have prohibited him from owning a gun, his sentence to a year’s confinement in a military prison would have.

Under federal law, anyone convicted of “a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” is prohibited from possessing a firearm, federal officials said.

“He fractured his baby stepson’s skull,” Christensen said of the crime of which Kelley was convicted.

Air Force officials are investigating the mistake, Pentagon officials confirmed to The Associated Press.

Texas Department of Public Safety and other state officials said earlier Monday that Kelley was denied a state handgun license, even though he would not have needed one to possess the Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic assault rifle reportedly used in the shooting.

We have a system in place that should have prevented this man from buying those guns. (The fact that anyone can buy assault rifles like the one he used is another matter, but let’s put that aside for now.) But a background check system relies on accurate data, and our system has a lot of holes in it, including this pretty glaring one. Back in the 90’s, after Georges Hennard killed 25 people at a Luby’s in Killeen, our legislature responded by passing the concealed carry law. Can we respond to the tragedy in Sutherland Springs by working to fix the problems with the national background check system? Can we at least try to do that much? I would like to think so, but we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends. Mother Jones and the Current have more.

Sutherland Springs

I don’t even know what to say. I worry more about some random asshole with a gun more than I do about anything else that could harm me or my family. I’ll say it again, because I keep having to say it, nothing will change until we start electing different people. Continuing to do what we’ve always done is to accept these unacceptably common events as normal. I refuse to do that.

More pre-trial diversion

DA Kim Ogg moves forward on more campaign promises.

Kim Ogg

During a press conference Tuesday, Ogg laid out in broad strokes the policy recommendations written by the committees and emphasized that she is seeking participation from experts and Houston’s leaders.

“We listen to the community,” she said, flanked by about 30 volunteers including former HPD Chief C. O. Bradford and Thurgood Marshall School of Law professor Lydia D. Johnson. “We are evidence-based and data driven, but it is important to know how the community wants tax dollars spent to enhance public safety.”

Ogg released the full reports from committees on officer-involved shootings, evidence integrity, equality, immigration, bail-bond reform, mental health and diversity.

Many of the reforms proposed using technology and data more efficiently to streamline the criminal justice system, such as moving to a paperless district attorney’s office or using evidence-based risk assessments to determine bail amounts.

Tarsha Jackson, the Harris County Director with the Texas Organizing Project, was on the bail bond committee and applauded Ogg for involving people with different backgrounds, some with conflicting interests.

“It was a tug of war,” Jackson said of her committee that included a bail bondsman and a representative of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “We had deep debate on what the district attorney can do in regard to bail reform, about what’s possible. And the final results were some good policies that she can implement.”

You can see the committee reports here. The themes all came from the campaign, and however you feel about the conclusions, I’d hope we can all respect a process that involved a broad spectrum of stakeholders who worked together across a range of perspectives. The Press read through the reports so you don’t have to.

Among the most noteworthy is the passing mention that Ogg’s administration “will work with all of the Harris County Law Enforcement agencies” to implement cite and release “for appropriate misdemeanor crimes,” which was not mentioned during the press conference. This has been a topic of debate for years, if not a full decade, after the Texas Legislature authorized police in 2007 to issue citations for various small-time crimes rather than arresting people and hauling them to jail. It’d be like getting a traffic ticket, then going to court for it later. It applies to crimes such as driving with an invalid license, criminal mischief, graffiti and possession of less than four ounces of pot (Ogg already diverts most pot cases).

[…]

Also noteworthy are plans to expand mental health diversion. Staci Biggar, a Houston defense attorney who was on Ogg’s mental health transition team panel, said that the idea was to transition people charged with low-level crimes like trespassing, often related to a person’s mental illness, away from jail and into treatment. Rather than asking for money to fund a program, she said judges can still issue pretrial diversion contracts to mentally ill defendants and individualize the terms based on that person’s needs.

“The idea is placing more people on bond and placing them in facilities, making pretrial conditions be to go see a particular health provider, or maybe they need to stay in a particular living situation,” Biggar said. “They can order somebody to see a doctor and they can order somebody to be treated by one organization. If you take a misdemeanor [defendant] and maybe that’s the first or second time they’re arrested, yes, you’ve been arrested, but we’ll drop the charges if you go and do these various things. It shouldn’t be that we wait until you’re really, really in trouble before there’s a stronger intervention for mental health.”

Other noteworthy nuggets from the eight transition team reports include the end to hiking bail to sometimes tens of thousands of dollars for suspected undocumented immigrants; vetting expert witnesses in capital murder cases more extensively and never “expert shopping”; and releasing to the public body-cam footage of officer-involved shootings as long as it does not impede an ongoing investigation — among various recommendations from the officer-involved shooting panel headed by former Houston police chief C.O. Bradford.

As Ogg says, you can judge her by her results in 2020. I think she’s off to a great start.

DA’s office ends trace case prosecutions

Good.

Kim Ogg

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has stopped prosecuting thousands of so-called trace drug cases, which typically stem from glass pipes seized from users containing little more than residue of crack cocaine, officials said Thursday.

The recent change means it is not prosecuted at all, unless there are extenuating circumstances said Tom Berg, First Assistant District Attorney. Houston police officials have given the new policy their approval, but with an important caveat.

“We want to go after people who are a real danger to the community, violent against people, violent against property,” Berg said. “It’s a smarter practice that everybody agreed to go forward on without a great deal of controversy.”

Berg said several factors combined to push the policy change, including limited resources, a raft of exonerations in recent years because of erroneous field tests and the rise of lethal drugs. He singled out fentanyl, a chemical which is 100 times more powerful than heroin and is used to cheaply spike more expensive drugs.

“Fentanyl and carfentanil – horrible substances – potentially fatal substances on contact,” he said. “Inadvertent contact, in the context of trying to scrape up some crud out of carpet in a car, could have catastrophic effects on the officers. They could be inhaling it without knowing it.”

[…]

The change is being eyed with cautious optimism by police representatives who had previously argued against the change.

“We’re not opposed to it as long as the DA is going to hammer hard these (burglary of motor vehicle) suspects who are crackheads anyway,” said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers Union. “These are the ‘trace case’ people, that’s who they are. They’re the people who are breaking into cars to steal change.”

The police union has argued that arresting people for drug possession because of residue on paraphernalia keeps them from burglarizing cars, homes and businesses.

In the past, much less than a gram of the illegal drug – often just scrapings – could be prosecuted as a felony adding 2,000 to 4,000 people a year to Houston’s crowded dockets.

Hunt said the district attorney’s office promised to vigorously prosecute car burglars in exchange for police support of the policy.

“If we start getting cases where we have BMV (burglary of a motor vehicle) suspects and it’s a crackhead with a pipe on them and that person gets one or two days in jail, then it’s a serious problem and they’re not living up to the deal,” Hunt said.

This was indeed a campaign promise of Ogg’s, and it had been the policy under Pat Lykos, before Devon Anderson put a stop to it. Getting buy in from the police union, however tentatively, is a big deal since they were a big part of the reason why it was so contentious under Lykos. Refocusing on property crimes is also a good move, as those offenses are seldom punished now and affect a lot of people in a tangible way. All in all, a big win. Let’s hope the follow-through is as successful. The Press has more.

The Observer talks to Kim Ogg

A good read:

Kim Ogg

You decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Jeff Sessions has signaled that he seeks to ramp up the war on drugs. What power does the federal government hold over your policy decisions?

I enjoy total discretion under Texas law as to who I charge and with what crime. The federal government has never been able or even really wanted to influence local prosecutors in terms of individual charging decisions. I don’t fear Sessions’ interference, although I think that states — certainly states where marijuana is legal — may face states’ rights battles with the federal government.

What pushback have you faced in Texas?

The lieutenant governor accused me of creating a sanctuary city. I think he’s looking to pick a fight with Houston. It seemed like a partisan attack more than a substantive one. He said Houston would become a drug-user sanctuary, and then I heard the same language being used by [DA] Brett Ligon of Montgomery County. They have the same political consultant, Allen Blakemore.

I think it was posturing simply because I did something that was popular and pragmatic. The program will save about $27 million a year — either save it or redirect it. I think this presents a clear and present threat to the Republican power structure, the fact that local Democratic government in Harris County is moving forward on this reform agenda that has bipartisan support. They’ve got an eye toward the 2018 election cycle.

Will this attack have any impact on Harris County? Or is this all just noise and politics?

Anything is possible, but the evidence will speak for itself. In the first six weeks of the program we’ve diverted 576 people [from jail], and the savings is over $1.5 million. The program will rise and fall based on whether we’re continuing to save lives and money. Of those 576 people that have been diverted so far, I know that none of them have lost their job because of an arrest for a misdemeanor amount of marijuana. I know that none of them have been turned away from a housing opportunity because of the marijuana conviction. So far, so good on both the human and the fiscal front.

There’s more, so go read the rest. One thing to observe, eight months into Ogg’s first term of office, is how tranquil things have been. Kim Ogg has cleaned house, made major changes to how low-level drug cases are handled, has sided with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the county’s bail practices, and inherited a controversial murder case (David Temple) that requires a retry–or-dismiss decision. Yet so far there has been little controversy, and basically no news stories of the “what is going on with the DA’s office” variety. She’s had a lot to do, she’s had a lot that she wanted to do and promised to do, and so far she’s done it with a minimum of fuss. That’s quite an accomplishment.

That said, once the Legislature is out and election season kicks in, the politics of this will get interesting. Ogg is in opposition to Republican judges and County Commissioners on the bail issue, and she opposes the “sanctuary cities” law, which will put her even more in Dan Patrick’s crosshairs. And not to put too fine a point on it, but with Annise Parker in the private sector (modulo a decision on her part to run for County Judge next year), Kim Ogg is now the most high profile gay person holding political office in Texas. That in and of itself would make her a target. Don’t be surprised when – not if – she is prominently featured in some ugly attack ads next year.

New county risk assessment system coming

We’ve been waiting.

Harris County officials on Tuesday touted their revamped strategy for deciding whether tens-of-thousands of individuals should be jailed before their criminal trials, a process that critics and a federal judge say disproportionately affects the poor who are unable to come up with the money to make bail.

On July 29, the county plans to implement the “public safety assessment,” to grade individuals arrested in Harris County each year on their risk of re-offending, committing a violent crime or failing to show up for court.

The tool is intended to recommend to judges and hearing officers that low-risk individuals – both felony and misdemeanor – be let out of jail on personal bonds. Higher-risk individuals would be required to post bail according to an established bail schedule, as well as face additional supervision such as round-the-clock monitoring or regular check-ins with probation officers.

“This is the biggest change in criminal justice reform that Harris County has ever seen,” said Kelvin Banks, the county’s director of pretrial services.

[…]

[Federal judge Lee] Rosenthal weighed in on the county’s new risk assessment tool earlier this month, writing that the new rules “do not change much.”

The system imposes a fee schedule ranging from $500 to $5,000 for misdemeanors and recommends up-front payment from most people.

“Like the old schedule … secured money bail is the standard recommendation for most categories of misdemeanor arrestees,” the judge wrote. “The approved changes are hardly different.”

Elizabeth Rossi, an attorney with Civil Rights Corps, said the risk assessment does not eliminate the use of a bail schedule, and despite its goal, will continue to ensure that those without means will be routinely jailed.

“It doesn’t solve the constitutional problem,” Rossi said.

See here and here for some background. I hope this helps, but it doesn’t sound like it moves us closer to a resolution. Maybe it will at least keep a few people out of jail who don’t need to be there. In the meantime, we wait for the appeals process to play out.

Still a few bugs in the system

A continuing story.

While Harris County officials are complaining that a federal judge’s bail order threatens public safety, the county has failed to provide more than 100 low-level defendants with pretrial services aimed at ensuring they make their court dates.

The latest revelations come amid criticism from District Attorney Kim Ogg, who accused county officials of trying to deliberately undermine the success of defendants released on personal bonds to bolster the county’s argument.

“Clearly the hope is that the reformed bail process fails,” Ogg said in a June 30 email obtained by the Chronicle. “This is necessarily a violation of their ethical duty and certainly not in the best interest of ordinary Harris County citizens.”

Ogg’s email did not identify which officials she believed might be responsible, and her office referred a request for additional comment to a court filing in which she supported changes to the county’s cash-bail system for misdemeanor offenses.

[…]

By missing court, the defendants also miss out on the assistance provided by the county’s Pre-Trial Services Division, such as text reminders about upcoming court dates that other defendants get seven days in advance and again on the day of the hearing.

Kelvin Banks, director of pretrial services, said a vendor, Voice4Net, manages the text messages for the county. He said his office is working with the vendor to set up reminders for those who are released by the sheriff, and is moving forward with plans for an additional staff member and training at the jail.

He said Monday he was reviewing resumes.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can do to give defendants the best opportunity to be succesful on pretrial release,” Banks said.

Another vendor, called Uptrust, met with county officials on June 28, two days before Ogg sent her email, proposing a two-way messaging system that allows defendants to respond and provides information on childcare options and transportation.

It’s a little hard to say what is going on here, based on this story. There’s a lot of he-said/she-said in there. My basic premise all along is that the county has very little credibility on this issue, so I generally discount the complaints from Commissioners and judges about how hard this all is and how they’re Doing Their Very Best and Just Need A Little More Time and so on and so forth. Every action by the county – specifically, by those who continue to fight to support the status quo – is one of foot-dragging and reluctance to make changes, even small ones. I’ve yet to see a show of good faith. If we ever get to that point, then maybe I’ll take their complaints seriously. Until then, I say quit whining and do what the judge ordered you to do.

Dukes pleads not guilty

To all counts.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, entered not guilty pleas to abuse-of-office charges Friday in Travis County district court.

The 12-term lawmaker pleaded not guilty to tampering with a governmental record and abuse of official capacity by a public servant. Judge Brad Urrutia on Friday set a trial date of Oct. 16.

Dukes told reporters outside the court room: “Why accept a plea when I didn’t do what they are alleging?”

“No one has heard all of the evidence and heard my side,” Dukes said. “There’s been a barrage of print media that has attempted to try me in the court of public opinion, yet the court and the proceedings have not begun and when they do, my attorney will tell the full story, the whole story and show that unequivocally I am not guilty of these charges.”

[…]

Dukes has faced criticism for missing votes and being absent from the House floor. She was not in attendance when the House voted on the final budget.

When asked if she was going to run for re-election, Dukes said: “That is a very strong possibility.”

See here and here for the background. Dukes is entitled to her day in court, and she’s innocent until proven guilty, but she’s been a replacement level legislator for a long time. One way or another, this needs to be her last term.

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.

There is always some risk

I get the concern, but the alternative was unacceptable and now is illegal. Get used to it.

More than 600 people charged with misdemeanors have been released since June 7 when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an emergency motion by the county to block [federal judge Lee Rosenthal’s] order, according to estimates provided to the county attorney’s office from criminal court officials.

[…]

“That’s my sort of common sense problem with this whole ruling,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “I’ve stated publicly that someone shouldn’t be in jail because they can’t afford bail…there’s got to be a risk assessment here. I don’t think anyone wants somebody to to keep driving drunk time after time after time until they kill some family somewhere.”

Other court members expressed similar concerns about people being released on personal recognizance.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle and Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said Rosenthal’s ruling makes it easy for criminals to game the system by swearing they do not have enough money to pay bail – even if they do – just to get out of jail.

“This is a slap at every single Harris County Criminal court judge,” Radack said. “It’s a slap at their integrity, their intelligence, and it’s, basically, it really doesn’t matter how bad you are, as long as you’re charged with a misdemeanor. If you say you can’t afford bail, you’re getting out.”

A 193-page opinion accompanying Rosenthal’s order outlined research that showed personal bonds in other jursidictions were no less effective at getting people to show up for their trials, nor did they significantly lead to additional offenses by those released. In fact, Rosenthal wrote, research shows pretrial detention increases the likelihood that people will commit future crimes.

Her order states that judges still have other tools – such as breathalyzers or GPS monitoring – to address the risk of releasees committing new offenses.

It also notes that the county has “not compiled the data it has to compare failure-to-appear or new-criminal-activity rates by bond type among misdemeanor defendants during pretrial release.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has been the lone member of Commissioners Court who has agreed that the county’s bail system is unconstitutional. He repeatedly has advocated settling the case. He said Tuesday that under the current bail system, people who can afford to make bail can pay, get out, and re-offend, meaning that using high bail to detain individuals disproportionately affects the poor.

Commissioner Ellis has it exactly right. Maybe if the county would get its act together and compile some data then some other members of Commissioners would feel less need to fearmonger. The point is that all along, we let anyone go who could pay whatever bond was set, without worrying about whether or not they might re-offend. A system that takes into account risk rather than ability to pay will do more to reduce this kind of crime than anything else. Fortunately, that’s what the county will have to do now. That’s all there is to it.