The town of Hutchins doesn't have a whole lot going for it. There's Hutchins State Jail, the town's second-largest employer, and new intermodal facilities centered on the Union Pacific train tracks and I-20 (this presumably explains how the population doubled between 2000 and 2010, to 5,338), but it has otherwise missed out on the growth enjoyed by neighboring Dallas and Lancaster.
Even when it comes to corruption, Hutchins is something of a backwater. News broke Monday afternoon that 10 current and former city officials -- including Mayor Artis Johnson -- have been indicted on charges stemming primarily from alleged scrap-metal theft.
"They were removing city property -- sometimes precious metals, brass, that sort of thing -- and selling it to recyclers and pocketing the money," Police Chief Frank McElligot told WFAA of the 16-month investigation, conducted with help from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, that yielded the indictments.
All told, McElligot puts the theft at upwards of $25,000.
Most of the alleged theft was by public works director Ronnie O'Brien and employees. The city secretary was caught making several hundred dollars worth of personal expenditures on the city credit card. All of this was uncovered after a former municipal court clerk talked after being accused of stealing $14,000 worth of fines.
Johnson is accused of being only tangentially involved in the graft. According to McElligott, he wrote a $300 check to O'Brien in the same amount the scrap-metal yard had for some reason made out to the city.
Johnson has lawyered up, enlisting the expertise of powerful State Senator Royce West, who is portraying his client as the victim of a police chief gone rogue.
"It's about a police chief that has pretty much run amok down there and believes that he has the power to charge people with silly offenses and then get the public to believe that someone after 15 years would engage in conduct like this," West told WFAA.
Surely, someone with so much experience in municipal government could find some fraud that wasn't so penny-ante.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
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