Is county's ethic dead end a two-way street?

June 28, 2012 8:14:39 PM PDT
Are we taking a trip down another ethics dead end? The district attorney Pat Lykos won't let us talk to her, but that's not stopping 13 Undercover from fighting for your right to know.

It's against the law to change public records after someone like you asks to see them. But is that a law DA Pat Lykos just chooses not to enforce?

Imagine how a deputy constable feels tonight: Nine months ago, we showed you how many of them are pressured to donate money to their bosses; no one has been punished -- no one.

We've showed you emails, tax records, curious checks, time sheets, black and white documentation that donation requests were often based on rank.

"I would hope the attorney general has his eyes looking straight at Harris County because this is a severe problem," Texas Watchdog Editor Trent Siebert said.

The County Attorney Vince Ryan says he investigated the constables for months but now he won't let you see the facts he uncovered. And all those county commissioners and the county judge, none of them has fought to make sure you see it.

"The people that we are supposed to go for help do anything but help," Siebert said.

Last fall, KTRK-TV complained directly to the district attorney when Constable Victor Trevino refused to provide us some of the financial records of his charity. There's a law against that, but Pat Lykos' office didn't prosecute.

When we asked for time sheets for a sergeant at Precinct 6, a supervisor then filled in the missing time sheet signatures. Again, there's a law about that. We complained to the county attorney -- nothing.

Months later, we asked for time sheets of a top investigator for the county attorney's office, Linda Geffin. Our request was made at 3:53pm, the afternoon of April 2. Guess what happened? Those very time sheets were changed the next morning by both Geffin and her boss.

"Look at the timeline, it does not look like a coincidence," Siebert said.

The change? The time sheets weren't signed before we asked to see them. Why is that important?

Supervisors are supposed to sign time sheets before government workers get paid, not months after. It's kind of how we make sure we're not getting ripped off.

But there's a bigger issue; it's called state law. Joe Larsen is one of the state's legal experts on the Public Information Act.

"You can't alter or destroy any governmental documents after a Public Information Act request has been made," Larsen said.

And that's why we asked Pat Lykos once again to investigate.

Then Geffin's supervisor signed a sworn statement saying he didn't know we had asked to see the records. For our DA, that meant case closed. But Rock Owens admitted in that same affidavit he was given the time sheets to sign the very afternoon we asked to see them. What a coincidence.

"Really, someone can sign an affidavit and case closed? Can I do that with a speeding ticket?" Siebert said.

But we know at least one top official in Vince Ryan's office knew darn well what we wanted to see. He's Chief of Staff Robert Soard, and the DA's office, they never got a sworn statement from him.

"This act is fundamentally important to keep our government officials honest," Larsen said.

The DA is Pat Lykos. Her brother is Nick Lykos, a top official in the county attorney's office. The district attorney's office denies a possible conflict, denies it's protecting the county attorney.

"I think there's a conflict of interest there. I think you need somebody independent," Larsen said.

A fork in the road -- can they both lead to an ethics dead end?

"We're not getting justice from the county attorney; we're not getting justice from the district attorney," Siebert said.

At least two employees of the county attorney's office have actually gone to the DA to complain about possible misconduct. And what does the DA's office say? They won't launch an investigation based on what they call "casual conversations."

Don't forget to check out the 13 Undercover Interactive to look at all the documents that have been changed so you can see what's been going on for yourself.


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