Thursday, August 29, 2013
Denton County Sheriff under investigation on two counts of bribery
Sheriff Will Travis took office in January 2013.
Allegations of two bribery charges against Denton County Sheriff William Travis are under investigation by Texas Rangers.
Both allegations involve issues prior to Travis’ election as sheriff and stem from allegations in an affidavit filed by a former Denton County Deputy Sheriff.
Travis won the Republican primary for sheriff on May 29, 2012, and ran unopposed in the general election on November 6, 2012. He assumed office in January 2013.
The first bribery allegation centers on an e-mail “purportedly” sent on Oct. 25, 2012, from Travis to former Denton County Sheriff Deputy Kevin Bragg, which was forwarded to the Denton County District Attorney’s office by Bragg’s attorney, Chris Raesz, in February. It outlined required conditions to be met should Bragg, currently a police officer in the Wise County town of Runaway Bay, wish to work at the Denton County Sheriff’s office again.
The e-mail to Bragg quoted in the affidavit, in part, read: “The law suit has to be dropped and I have to see a judgment reflecting this by November 5, 2012.” It also required a signed statement assuring Travis that Bragg would never sue the department or county again.
The affidavit said that attorney Raesz, told Bragg that he thought Travis’ “offer” was a violation of state law and encouraged Bragg to stop communicating with the sheriff.
In response, Bragg filed an affidavit contending that the e-mail represented a job-related bribe to get him to drop his long-running lawsuit against the sheriff’s department. Bragg’s original civil suit was filed in 2009, after he lost his job under former sheriff Benny Parkey. Bragg claims he was a whistleblower exposing wrongdoing by other deputies under Parkey. The former two-term sheriff, in turn, lost his bid for re-election to Travis.
When a criminal investigation involves an elected official, a special prosecutor is assigned and the investigation is conducted by the state’s highest law enforcement agency, the Texas Rangers. Special Prosecutor Frank Able and Texas Ranger Company “B” investigator James Holland are handling the Travis investigation.
Travis has said that the communication with Bragg referenced the required conditions to be met by applicants as listed on the Denton County’s standard application form.
Travis told Ranger Holland in an interview on June 6: "My only intent … You can't get hired by the county unless ... if you have a lawsuit you’re done ... that was it, that was my main deal, there is no promise of a job."
On July 1, Sheriff Chief Deputy Rex George reportedly told Ranger Holland that in May or June, 2012, he had advised Travis to avoid Bragg because he had a lawsuit pending against the department. According to the affidavit: “George told Travis, ‘It is not our lawsuit; let it go.’”
The second bribery allegation against Travis involves Bragg’s report of a job offer to primary candidate Jesse Flores, then a Lewisville police officer, if he would drop out of the race for sheriff.
In his affidavit, Bragg said he met with Travis’ opposing primary candidate, Constable Jesse Flores and Deputy Constable Barry Minoff. Bragg said that Flores told him that Travis would give him (Flores) a “chief spot” in the sheriff’s office, if he dropped out of the race. Flores has said that he had no offer of a job from Travis.
Deputy Constable Minoff agreed that Flores didn’t say anything to Bragg about a job offer from Travis, or that Flores had been asked to drop out of the primary to avoid a costly runoff.
“In fact, the only one talking about jobs or offers or anything like that was Kevin [Bragg],” said Minoff.
Flores said he remained in the race for sheriff and campaigned, attended candidate forums and greeted voters at various polling places on Election Day.
“I didn’t drop out of the race, even though I had other personal things going on,” said Flores in a personal interview. “My father passed and my wife had health issues, so I was trying to do my job and get to my daughter’s soccer games … but I didn’t drop out.”
A Lewisville police officer at the time of the sheriff race, Flores was appointed Constable for Pct. 1 by the Denton County Commissioners, following the death of his predecessor, Jim Dotson. Sworn in on May 7, Flores is Denton County’s first Hispanic constable.
In a June 3 interview with Ranger Holland, Constable Flores reported that he had heard “rumors from others” that after the primary, if Travis was elected sheriff, he was considering bringing Flores into his (Travis’) administration.
It was during this interview that initial questions were raised about whether there were texts between Travis and Flores in Flores’ cell phone and, if so, what the content of the messages were. In the conversation between Holland and Flores, discrepancies related to the cell phone led to follow-up conversations on June 6 and 10 between the two. Each exchange became more adversarial. They escalated from a request to “mirror” Flores’ phone content (denied), to a request for Flores to take a polygraph test (denied unless counsel approved and present), to Flores refusal to speak further with Ranger Holland and Holland advising Constable Flores that he would be forced to secure a search warrant for Constable Flores’ phone.
Ranger Holland continually reminded Constable Flores that he was a witness, not the subject of the criminal investigation.
“I was told I was a witness and co-operated willingly with my answers to questions and even showed my cell phone to Ranger Holland,” said Flores. “But, I started to feel like I was a suspect of something I didn’t do or even know what they wanted. I was asked to talk about conversations I was supposed to remember over a year ago, but he wouldn’t tell me what it concerned or who the conversation was supposed to have been with. He said he’d talked to other officers, but wouldn’t tell me who or what they said.”
The Texas Rangers’ bribery investigation of Travis became public on Thursday, August 8, following the issue of a search warrant for Flores’ cell phone.
“Now I’ve got this cloud over my head … looking like I did something wrong, when the investigation isn’t even about me,” said Flores.
Constable Pct. 4 Tim Burch and Deputy Constable Minoff support Flores’ perception of being regarded as a suspect, rather than a witness in a criminal investigation.
“I have no idea when this will be over or how long it will take,” said Flores. “I had to go out and buy a new cell phone.”
According to Company “B” Public Information Officer Sgt. Lonny Haschel, a forensic examination is conducted at the Austin Headquarters and is phone specific.
“It could take just a couple of weeks, or several months,” said Haschel. “And, the phone is property involved in the investigation, so it may be returned if the investigation is completed, or it will be kept until the end of a trial if it goes that far.”
According to the Texas State Penal Code Chapters 36 and 39 (Bribery and Corrupt Influence Abuse of Office), there are two outcomes from a felony investigation. Either the investigation reveals no basis to continue, or there is enough evidence to send the case to a Grand Jury.
“A Grand Jury is a panel of 12 people that decides whether a felony should be indicted or not,” said 1st Assistant District Attorney Jamie Gurley of the Denton County District Attorney’s office. “Grand Juries are independent and the public has no access to their deliberations. They can either issue a no-bill turning down the case, or they can issue a true bill, which equals a felony indictment. From there, the case goes to a district court, just like any other felony trial.”
White collar and public corruption cases are difficult, because prosecutors must prove intent. The government has to show intent through circumstantial evidence which can be difficult. That's why many of these kinds of cases take years.
Attorney Richard Roper, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, is representing Travis.
In his written statement on August 9, Roper defended Travis’ credentials, described him as “one of the most highly qualified sheriffs in Texas,” “a former DEA special agent,” and “a highly successful businessman” who is “bringing those skills he learned in federal law enforcement and the private sector to improve the Sheriff’s Office and the County jail.
“Some don’t like that,” wrote Roper.
See the complete investigation timeline listed on the August 8 search warrant here.
Pegasus News Content partner - The Cross Timbers Gazette
The Cross Timbers Gazette is a locally owned and operated newspaper established in 1979, serving the southern Denton County towns of Argyle, Bartonville, Copper Canyon, Double Oak, Flower Mound, Highland Village, Lantana and Robson Ranch.