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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Boss Cops Shaking Down Beat Cops

2 Dallas County constables indicted over campaign funds generated by raffles
The Dallas Morning News by KEVIN KRAUSE and ED TIMMS - December 1, 2010
kkrause@dallasnews.com - etimms@dallasnews.com

Felony indictments released this morning accuse Precinct 1 Constable Derick Evans and former Precinct 5 Constable Jaime Cortes of wrongdoing related to campaign contributions obtained through raffles.

Two of Evans' top deputies – Tracey Gulley and Kelvin Holder – were indicted on related charges.

Evans was indicted on four felony counts of accepting cash contributions greater than $100 and one count of engaging in organized criminal activity. Gulley and Holder each were indicted on one count of engaging in organized criminal activity. Cortes was indicted on two counts of tampering with government records for failing to report contributions on campaign disclosure forms. Under Texas law, a raffle cannot be operated for political fundraising. Special prosecutor Ted Lyon said that Evans and his deputies “engaged in organized criminal activity by promoting an illegal raffle to fund a campaign, which is illegal under the Texas gambling statutes. And when three or more people do it, it becomes organized criminal activity.” Lyon said that what Evans and his deputies did has been going on in the precinct for years. “They forced deputies who were under their control, who worked for them, to either raise or contribute $250 towards this so-called raffle, which was for his (Evans) campaign,” Lyon said. Lyon said that Holder and Gurley, the two deputies, “were were the ones who basically enforced it.”

“ They were telling deputies if they didn’t do that, they would suffer the consequences. And that had to do with their off-duty jobs and things of that nature,” Lyon said. “…You’ve got to get approval from the constables themselves. If they didn’t do t he job that they were required to do, which is raise that money or contribute that money… $250 bucks – they were penalized.” Lyon said that kind of activity has gone on for a very long time. That’s what Huey Long, the controversial former governor of Louisiana, did with his people, Lyon said, adding the civil service laws were passed long ago “because people in political office were forcing employees to contribute to their campaigns.” “People know that this is wrong,” he said. “You can’t do that to your employees. There’s nobody that na├»ve, I don’t believe.” Cortes, Lyon said, was indicted for failing to report campaign contributions that he actually received. “He basically took money from people and didn’t report it,” he said. Lyon said that Cortes “had the same raffle going on” but that some charges couldn’t be filed because the alleged wrongdoing was past a 2-year statute of limitations. Lyon said the investigation into the activities of Cortes and Evans is ongoing and there is a possibility of other charges being filed. He said that he is still looking into allegations of wrongdoing involving the towing practices of the two constables’ offices and the use of temporary license tags on vehicles whose ownership was not clear. Lyon, a former state senator from Mesquite and a former police officer, referred the case to a Dallas County grand jury on Monday. He took over an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in the Precinct 5 constable's office under Cortes and in Evans' office earlier this year after Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said he had a conflict of interest and withdrew from the case. Evans and Cortes have been featured prominently in an investigation by The Dallas Morning News begun in early 2009 that exposed questionable practices in their offices. In November 2009, a News investigation revealed that Evans and Cortes relied heavily on campaign contributions obtained from their subordinates.

In 2008, more than 85 percent of the $13,235 Evans raised came from his employees — all but one of whom were deputies. Most gave the same amount: $250. And in 2007, about 60 percent of the $17,115 he raised came from employees, according to campaign finance reports. Again, most were deputies. Current and former employees of Evans and Cortes told The News that deputies were subtly pressured into selling raffle tickets to raise money for their boss's re-election campaigns. Beau Burt, a former Precinct 1 deputy constable who was fired in 2009, sent an e-mail to the county in February 2009 alleging coercion in Evans' office. Veteran officers describe the raffle tickets as "job security," Burt wrote. "The administration applies a great deal of pressure to volunteer and threatens to quit signing off on off-duty jobs if they don't get the ‘volunteers' they need," Burt wrote. He likened the office atmosphere to "battered spouse syndrome." "All of them are scared, as they believe that if they speak up, they will be fired," Burt wrote in the e-mail. Lois Martin, a former Precinct 5 deputy, told The News in November 2009 that said Cortes' chief deputy gave her and other deputies each 50 $5 raffle tickets to sell, for a total of $250. "I didn't want to sell tickets. I felt like I was forced to," said Martin. She said she reluctantly managed to sell about $150 worth of raffle tickets with the help of family members — a chore she didn't enjoy. She said she kicked in $25 of her own money and turned the cash in to Cortes' chief deputy, Ken Hines, around December 2007. However, none of Cortes' campaign finance reports reflected a contribution from Martin, The News found. She said many other deputies sold tickets to raise campaign cash for Cortes. Cortes' campaign finance reports, however, show few employee contributions. Jaime Torrez, a traffic deputy who quit Precinct 5 in 2009 to work at another law enforcement agency, said deputies were expected to buy any raffle tickets they couldn't sell. Many did so out of fear, including him, he added. He said Cortes got the ticket idea from Evans, in whose office he worked as a traffic sergeant before being appointed to head Precinct 5 in mid-2007. Torrez said it was understood that there would be consequences for not selling the tickets, based on what happened to others.

In February, a report prepared by former FBI agent Danny Defenbaugh, who county commissioners hired to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in Cortes' and Evans' offices, stated that deputies were forced to campaign for Cortes on duty, contribute money to his campaign through the sale of raffle tickets and work special security details for free. A preliminary report by Defenbaugh released in March concluded that Evans may have abused his office by requiring deputies to fund his re-election campaigns by selling raffle tickets or buying the tickets themselves. Evidence indicated that Evans ran his office with an "improper or corrupt motive and malfeasance," Defenbaugh's report concluded. The report also stated that Evans may have committed at least two crimes: abuse of official capacity and official oppression. Another Defenbaugh report focused on the use of deputies from Evans' and Cortes' offices as security for Kwanzaa Fest, a charity event run by Commissioner John Wiley Price. The report said that some deputies were "intimidated and coerced" into providing security work without compensation for the annual December event.

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