As you're most likely aware by now, Dallas County Constable Derick Evans, former constable Jaime Cortes and two of Evans's deputies have been indicted on a total of nine counts. We've been working the phones since yesterday and haven't heard back from several parties, although Judge Jim Foster's supposed to return our phone call sometime late this afternoon (Update: His comments are after the jump), and one of Cortes's attorneys just sent out a press release saying he's posted bond and that they'll "vigorously defend these charges."
"This matter has been pending for at least two years at the unwarranted and immoderate expense of Dallas County taxpayers," according to the statement from attorney Jane Bishkin. "Jaime Cortes believes that he is the victim of a political vendetta by certain members of the Dallas County Commissioners' Court."
The charges aren't particularly sexy given what former FBI agent Danny Defenbaugh discovered during his civil investigation of the two constables' offices, but special prosecutor Ted Lyon assured us last night that his investigation is ongoing. Surprisingly, none of the charges are related to much of what was detailed in Defenbaugh's 92-page report on Cortes or his 26-page report about Kwanzaa Fest. Absent is the biggie: allegations that bribes were received from the owner of Dowdy Ferry Auto Services.
Defenbaugh says he's unable to comment on whether the charges represent what he uncovered because more indictments could be forthcoming. He also refused to address whether or not Lyon took too long in bringing forward the current charges.
"I just hope for the all the victims that justice will finally prevail," he tells Unfair Park.
Cortes is charged with two counts of tampering with a government record. He's accused of knowingly falsifying the total contribution amount on his campaign finance report filed in January 2008 and then filing the report "with knowledge of its falsity." If convicted of both felony charges, Cortes faces a sentence of between 360 days and four years in jail and a maximum fine of $20,000.
Evans is charged with four misdemeanor charges of accepting cash campaign contributions exceeding $100 and a felony charge of engaging in organized criminal activity for holding a raffle in December 2008, which was used as a campaign fund-raiser. His two deputies, Tracey Gulley and Kelvin Holder, were also charged with engaging in organized criminal activity in connection with the raffle. Evans faces a maximum of four years in jail and a $16,000 fine if he's convicted of the misdemeanors, and the felony charge carries a sentence of between 180 days and two years behind bars and a maximum fine of $10,000 for each of the three county employees.
Jamille Bradfield, spokesperson for the district attorney's office, sent out a statement that said District Attorney Craig Watkins, who recused himself from the investigation because of supposed threats to him and his family from a mentally ill inmate, won't be commenting on the cases.
"For clarification, the District Attorney's (DA) Office is not commenting, case-specific or in general terms on anything related to the charges, indictments or pending cases of Constables Cortes and Evans. Earlier this year, Mr. Ted Lyon was appointed by a judge as a special prosecutor pro tem, therefore, the DA's office is not involved at all in the prosecution of these cases."
The misdemeanor charges against Evans appear especially weak, given that in March we uncovered a violation of Section 254.001 of the Texas Election Code by Watkins and the same offense by his challenger, Republican Danny Clancy, in October. Both men accepted campaign contributions from anonymous donors, which is punishable by a maximum of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Clancy's campaign spokesperson also told us that his contributions were cash, opening the door for charges similar to those pinned on Evans. Of course, these and other gaffes on campaign finance reports have not resulted in charges.
Judge Jim Foster's happy with the charges because he says convictions will lead to the removal of Evans from office and the dismissal of Gulley and Holder. (The commissioners court is unable to remove them.) He adds that it's likely that they could leave as part of a plea agreement, along with possibly surrendering their peace officer licenses.
"I think this is what's concrete right now; this is solid; and this is what they've got to go on," he says. "And I think the time had come to get something out for the public so the public would have some confidence that justice is going to be served."
Foster says the indictments were to get the attention of those charged -- "You wanna work with us or you wanna pay the price?" -- and claims Lyon has done his best given the resources and support he's been offered.
"I think there's more to come," he says. "This is the beginning of the beginning."