Unfair Park has waited all day for a response from Larry Friedman, one of several lawyers representing embattled Dallas County Constable Jaime Cortes, concerning a digital sound recording somebody made of a meeting yesterday involving Cortes and 30 of his deputies. At 9 this morning he said he would get a copy to Cortes and come back with a comment. Time's up.
The audio file -- a scratchy recording from a device somebody must have had inside a pocket -- features Cortes warning his deputies not to cooperate with ongoing criminal investigations of Cortes. The source who sent it to Unfair Park, who is familiar with the back story on Cortes's problems, believes the recording catches the constables threatening and intimidating witnesses in a criminal investigation.
Friedman didn't call us back to speak for Cortes. But Unfair Park thinks there are probably at least a couple of ways to read the transcript of the recording provided by the same source. The exculpatory version would be that Cortes was merely trying to buck up morale and show his troops that he is unbowed.
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On January 28 Cortes's top deputy and the deputy's wife were arrested on several charges, the result of separate investigations by Dallas County Judge Jim Foster and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins of corruption in Cortes's office. Some witnesses also have reported being questioned by the FBI.
The source who provided the recording and transcript to Unfair Park asked not to be named in order to avoid compromising the investigations. The source claimed to have spoken with more than one person present at the meeting yesterday in Cortes's office. The source said the impression conveyed by them was that Cortes was warning people not to cooperate with law enforcement investigators. They told the source Cortes wanted them to know that he would get their names, that he would be out of jail soon on bond if arrested and that those who had wives and children should remember that Cortes is a tough guy from West Dallas.
A full transcript follows.
Staff meeting at Constable Office Precinct 5
February 3, 2010
Jaime Cortes speaking to about 30 staff members
[Noise in room]
... When I first came over as Constable Cortes, I think I aggravated ... On the day I stood there and I put my hands down... [interruption, followed by something unintelligible]
This is about officers being arrested and indictments coming down. If they come down, I'm still gonna be here. Those who are ... who decided to go to the other side ... when I asked a long time ago to let's leave the politics out of it.
If you are on the other side, I know who you are.
Let me say it again in case you are recording it: I know who you are.
But if you decide to be .. That's fine, what I am saying. I am not going anywhere. If they decide to indict me, remember what an indictment is. It's an indictment. You still have a trial now. ... It's not an admission of guilt. But you have deputies here. I know we got deputies that are calling you, telling you to talk to somebody, to talk to Danny Defenbaugh, to the FBI, the DA. Go up there and let them try to steer you.
Because what they are trying to do is what they are accusing me of doing. They are coercing you. That's coercion, and they can be disciplined for it. So if you can report it if you believe there is coercion being involved with them around this.
Just so you know it -- I am here, I am still here and I am gonna be here. All right. Let the rumors fly. [Unintelligible]
I got my file clerk ready to go. And I got my attorneys ready to go. All right.
I got a lawyer. Guess what, he calls here everyday. I got attorneys that invite me, the documents they send me ... [Unintelligible, followed by something about Rockwall].
Constable Cortes is over West Dallas. I grew up here. [Unintelligible]
When those others -- I forget their names, but they're on the ballot -- when they say I am soft, I fought too hard to get here. Do your job. If you have any concerns about me, indictments, whatever, it's not your problem. You don't have to talk to the investigators downtown. By the way, they are calling me too. They are trying to step on me, man. [Unintelligible] I met them for five minutes.
I had to put it out there. Too much is being said. You are hearing it from me. If any indictments come down on me or any of you all. If it comes down on me, I am here. If I have to take a ride, but I'll be back. But I will still be here. Indictments are indictments. That's it. So there it is out of my mouth, so you don't think I am running around scared, that I am up there hiding and stuff. He's hiding.
I have been gone the last few weeks. But no one said nothing about that. I have been shaking hands, but in the last week I supposed to be hiding.
Really, guys, ladies, you forget what I said when I got here and forget where I was raised. I got thrown from a pick-up when I was 21. I stayed in ICU for a week. I almost lost my life. Me going down and eating bologna sandwiches doesn't scare me. No, not at all.
Some of you have a wife and kids. I am a public official. My life is this office. I am not like some of you that are married and do your thing and go home.
My life is an open book. [Unintelligible]. The bottom line is, we are precinct No. 1 in serving paper. Number one. [Interruption]
So, if anything, we are doing our jobs. And that's the key. The structure and discipline we put in. And the turnover rate that we had, people that we had that were not happy and left, the people who were not up to par with doing their job. If you can't do the job, [unintelligible] me. We are gonna bring it to you. That's all we ever asked you to do was do your job.
We got so many chiefs that want to be responsible, don't talk about it. Come to the office and tell me, "I think we should do it this way." Don't come down to the office ... [unintelligible]. Are you all comfortable with that?
Say, "Hey, constable, I got an idea. Why don't we do it this way?" If I don't hear from you, how am I supposed to know?
But you get what you ask for. A lot of times you don't think I listen, but I listen, but nobody ever sees that. You go over there and see if some other agency will let you screw up four or five times and see if they keep you. The second or first time you are gone. None of your little figures will say that.
I just want you to know, I am here. If I have to go take a ride, get a bond person, we have an attorney. I got two attorneys.
Some of your friends downtown who is a Republican down there [unintelligible] manufactured charges they founded on one-sided story don't want to say the whole side of the story. Mr. Defenbaugh throws it to the FBI. It's not gonna be that simple. You have to remember I live in a big house, not a small house. [Unintelligible]
Jaime Cortes, Constable Precinct 5, we will still be here. If you have any questions go for it. Anytime an officer doesn't feel he can own up to it, write it down on a piece of paper and give it to your supervisor. He will bring it up.
We have some 30 days before the election March 2nd. Cortes will have the majority. [Unintelligible]