Despite its vaguely official-sounding name, the Christmas Bureau of Austin & Travis County is not a branch of local government. It's a nonprofit charity, one that purports to help needy individuals and families during the holiday season.
That seems to be what the organization did from 1964, when it was founded, until 2010. That's when Shon Washington, a thrice-convicted thief, answered a Craigslist ad from the bureau seeking a handyman. Soon thereafter, he was named to the nonprofit's board of directors. When the group's president died unexpectedly in December 2011, he appointed himself president.
That gave Washington carte blanche to do what Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott claimed he'd been doing since he joined the bureau: funnel donated funds into his personal bank accounts.
Abbott sued Washington, along with his wife and three former officials with the organization and the Christmas Bureau itself, claiming they've been running a scam. The suit doesn't say exactly how much Washington et al are believed to have stolen; it merely points out that the charity bringing in more than $100,000 and had an end-of-year balance of $50,000 in its bank account. On November 28, the balance was down to $99. At least $30,000 went into an account Washington created for his personal use, the suit says.
"It appears at this time that the individual Defendants have almost completely drained the charity's bank accounts, and will continue to spend charitable funds as quickly as they are donated if accounts are not frozen immediately," the suit says.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
It all seems like a fairly cut-and-dry case of theft and consumer fraud. That's how it's described in the AG's lawsuit. But in the wake of a decision Wednesday by a Travis County judge to freeze the Christmas Bureau's bank accounts and issue a temporary restraining order preventing Washington and the others from soliciting donations, Abbott upped the ante.
"Whether it's a grinch or a convicted felon, the State won't stand by while anyone steals Christmas away from deserving families in our community," Abbott crowed in a press release.
That's right. Greg Abbott just saved Christmas, not just from mushy liberals who insist on replacing the term with "holiday" but from actual thieves out to keep poor kids from celebrating the holiday. Just let the real Grinch try and poach gifts from under Texas' Christmas trees. Abbott will be on that.
Abbott hasn't announced his next move in his battle against anti-Christmas forces, but yesterday did bring the news that an Austin kindergarten teacher told her students that Santa's not real. Let's hope this Mrs. Fueller has steeled herself for the right hook of Texas justice, Greg Abbott-style.