FBI joins widening constable probe

December 15, 2011 11:42:08 AM PST
A federal investigation is underway and the target is longtime Houston Constable Jack Abercia's office.

13 Undercover has learned the subpoena from a federal grand jury arrived at Precinct 1 headquarters, along with FBI agents.

The FBI won't confirm what is happening, but we know from other sources we have that it's a bribery investigation involving the hiring of a Precinct 1 deputy. At least one commander has already been questioned.

This marks three constable offices in Harris County now under criminal investigation -- Abercia's office in downtown, May Walker's office on the southeast side and Victor Trevino's office on the east side. That's nearly half the constables in town.

As new developments break, we're keeping the heat on where we started and all those folks who promised to clean it up.

Promises, promises...

"As to the past, what was happening in the past, that's something to review. To answer it right now would be premature," Harris County Pct. 6 Constable victor Trevino said.

Remember, Victor Trevino promised you a full investigation of possible widespread misconduct in his office. That was five months ago, constable. Where is it?

We do know the constable hasn't gotten a single sworn statement from any of his highest-ranking commanders, and he won't give us critical bank records from the charity he founded. We've been asking for months.

"Where's the, 'Hey you can't do this?'" we asked Harris County Assistant County Attorney Terry O'Rourke.

"Coming soon on Channel 13 Eyewitness News will be an answer to that question," he told us back in September.

Tough talk then, but where is the county attorney's office now?

When Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan wanted the job back in 2008, he told the Houston Chronicle what the county needs now is a group of watchdogs, not lapdogs.

"Is his bark worse than his bite?" we asked Texas Watchdog editor Trent Siebert.

"Wayne, based on what you found, this isn't a watchdog, this is a lapdog," he replied.

"Well a watchdog who bites the person as they are running out the door is not as good as the watchdog that prevents somebody coming in the door," Ryan said.

There was no hint of favoritism.

"We don't put up with this stuff whether it's our friends or our enemies, that we play stuff right down the middle of the bowling alley," O'Rourke said.

But what if taxpayers knew the guys in charge of investigating Victor Trevino had such strong feelings for him? You gotta love YouTube and the heartfelt words we found in a speech last year...

"I can say this as a person who's known him in politics as well as in his government service is that I can speak on behalf of Vince and me, Victor, we truly love you and it's a joy to introduce you, thank you," O'Rourke says in the video.

"What kind of investigating can come of that? The guy investigating you tells you he's in love," Siebert said. "How are you going to get a fair shake, how are taxpayers going to get a fair shake? The answer is, they're not."

Tonight we've learned the county attorney's office hasn't tried to get a single sworn statement from any Precinct 6 employee.

"Have we recommended disciplining anyone?" we asked Ryan.

"Not directly, no," he replied.

Even after the county attorney's office knew a supervisor at Precinct 6 actually changed time sheets after we asked to see them.

"Have you asked the auditor's office to conduct a review of time sheet practices at any constable's offices?" we asked Ryan.

The answer from his staff? No.

"It looks like a deliberate slow-walking of an investigation. It looks like they don't want this to be investigated, it looks like they want it go away," Siebert said.

We found campaign records inside Pct. 7 Constable May Walker's government office, evidence of illegal raffles for her campaign. We found widespread evidence of misuse of county equipment and personnel in Trevino's office. Both deny wrongdoing.

The county attorney's office has the power under state law to try and remove them for incompetence or misconduct...

"Not as of today, we do not have any plans because each of the constables has been very cooperative," Ryan said.

So the two officials now supposedly spearheading the constable investigation -- County Attorney Vince Ryan and District Attorney Pat Lykos -- and that's constable Trevino in the photo between them. We found the picture on "votevinceryan.com," a campaign website.

But what about the culture of the constables?

The monthly county property auction takes place at the courthouse in front of hundreds of taxpayers. The deputies are in uniform, on duty, on your dime, but when we tried to take pictures, boy did we strike a nerve. And before it was over, it got pretty ugly.

And we've got plenty of documented evidence deputies are asked for campaign money by their bosses. The higher the rank, the more you're asked to pay.

"This is something out of Chicago, this is something out of old time Louisiana. This is not how a professional law enforcement agency should be run," Siebert said.

Our chat appears to have inspired the county attorney. Just one day after we talked, the auditor finally was asked to investigate time sheet practices at Precinct 6. Ryan says his office is already helping the DA.

Victor Trevino's defense lawyer also tells us the constable is helping the Harris County attorney, the district attorney and the auditor in their investigation.

See video extras, hear the promises as the months have evolved and see extended video of a little confrontation we had with a Precinct 5 deputy.


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