13 undercover revealed allegations that county judge Phil Fitzgerald and his family profited from the county's Hurricane Ike cleanup. His brother-in-law's company may have been paid up to $1 million. Fitzgerald has also been accused of judicial misconduct.
A joint investigation by Eyewitness News and the Cleveland Advocate stirred up multiple charges and counter-charges involving many officials at the county courthouse. Now local prosecutors say they have asked the state to investigate.
Here is a full statement released from their offices Friday:
"There has recently been considerable public controversy regarding allegations of misconduct on the part of one or more Liberty County officials. The County Attorney's Office and the District Attorney's Office have each conducted preliminary investigations into the aforementioned allegations. Since any criminal conduct on the part of any responsible person, persons, or entities can constitute either felonies or misdemeanors, we have collaborated with each other in regard to these matters for some time. The Liberty County District Attorney's Office is responsible for the prosecution of felonies and official misconduct while the Liberty County Attorney's Office is responsible with the prosecution of misdemeanor offenses.
"The number and the complexity of the allegations have increased. The issues which have arisen thus far appear to involve several Liberty County offices and departments and the employees thereof as witnesses. It is no secret that three of the four judges in the Liberty County Courthouse have been mentioned in public media reports in one capacity or another in connection with these matters. The County Attorney's Office and the District Attorney's Office must by definition maintain a close professional relationship with all of the judges within the Liberty County Courthouse in order to maintain the viability and health of the criminal justice system of Liberty County.
"In light of those professional working relationships and other matters which have arisen and/or may arise during a continuing investigation, we have made the decision that the public perception of objectivity and fairness in connection with the resolution of these matters is paramount.
"Accordingly, we have decided to refer all of these matters to the Texas Attorney General's Office for any investigation and any possible prosecution which is deemed warranted by the Attorney General's Office. The Attorney General's Office has agreed to look into these matters and we are in the process of forwarding the specific allegations as we believe them to be as well as all of the results of our preliminary investigations to the Attorney General's Office.
"We believe that it is extremely important that the citizens of Liberty County have complete faith and confidence in the investigation of these matters as well as the results of that investigation. Despite our personal beliefs about our abilities to fairly and objectively undertake these tasks, we feel that the faith and confidence of the citizens of Liberty County can best be preserved by referring these matters to the Texas Attorney General's Office, a state agency which is completely independent of Liberty County and any Liberty County official or office.
"We made this decision only after many hours of discussion and soul-searching. However, in the end, we felt that the interests of justice require such a referral. We do urge the citizens of Liberty County to remain patient and to allow the Office of the Texas Attorney General adequate time to look into these matters in order to insure that justice is done."
13 Undercover will continue to monitor this investigation.