Whose side is your county watchdog on?

September 20, 2012 3:25:57 AM PDT
Harris County Constable Victor Trevino is under scrutiny for possible misuse of charity funds, one year after 13 Undercover began confronting the constable. On Wednesday, the Precinct 6 constable spent seven hours testifying before a grand jury.

And it's not over yet. They want the veteran east end lawman to come back later to answer even more questions.

"Do you expect for there to be an indictment?" we asked attorney Chip Lewis.

"I hope not. Based on all of our review, I believe if there was anything to criticize about Victor Trevino's work at Precinct 6 or his work with CARE, it's more in the line of bookkeeping or accounting issues. I don't think the grand jury will see anything on the lines of Constable Trevino personally enriching himself," Lewis said.

Now, 13 Undercover has tough new questions for the guy who's supposed to be the watchdog, when it comes to the ethics of the constables.

Vince Ryan doesn't want you to know what his office found when they investigated the constables, and he's been fighting for months to keep you in the dark. But now we've got our hands on documents Vince Ryan never wanted you to see -- how his own investigator described life for the folks who wear the badges in Precinct 6.

"I will be doing stories on this for as long as I'm alive until the law enforcement and public officials of this county start realizing that the public is number one," we told Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan.

Let's enter Vince Ryan's campaign website, where you'll find the kind of photos a politician uses to paint a portrait; a soldier in Vietnam, a guy fit to run for public office, a proud Democrat, a guy rubbing shoulders with the president himself.

"Why the particular pictures chosen?" we asked Ryan.

"I'm glad you looked at it. I haven't looked at it lately," he said.

But one photo caught our eye. And It's been a fixture on Ryan's re-election website for 17 months.

It's Ryan, the DA Pat Lykos and the eastside Harris County Constable Victor Trevino. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So what does this one say to you?

"You sat here and said the public had a right to know what you found before they went to the polls," we told Ryan.

"I would like to see exactly that particular interview," he replied.

"Well you will," we said.

"At the end of the day, does numero uno, the public, deserve to know exactly what you found so they can make a determination about whether or not these people are fit to remain in office?" we asked Ryan on December 5, 2011.

"To the extent it is appropriate at the time that they run for re-election, I think you are right," he said.

After the investigation, Ryan did issue a report; but it was only guidance to the constables on how to avoid breaking the law in the future.

Ryan's office has successfully spent months trying to keep you from ever seeing what his investigators really found at Precinct 6. Ryan's even paying a private law firm with your money to help him keep it confidential from you.

Robert Talton wants Vince Ryan's job in November.

"He covered up wrongdoing that he was aware of and chose to look the other way. Instead of being the watchdog that he should be, he's a lapdog," Talton said.

"Well that's not surprising that an opponent might say that," Ryan told us.

"Really? Others have said it, too," we said.

"This is a cover up of Nixonian proportions. I don't see any other explanation," Texas Watchdog Editor Trent Siebert said.

Ryan's office says no, they've done a lot since our first stories to clean up the constable's operations.

"The bottom line is you ran for public office as the ethics watchdog for this county," we told Ryan.

"I think the ethics are being much more cautiously observed by county officials," he said.

But eastside voters went to the polls in May without knowing all the facts. Victor Trevino won re-election and he's got no opponent in November.

"In Precinct 6, the primary, the Democratic Primary, is the only game in town, and if you can punt the ball down the road until to June, July or August, well the cover-up is complete," Siebert said.

Now, you will finally see some of what Vince Ryan has been fighting to keep you see from seeing. The state ordered his office to let us see this stuff, and we're going to show it to you.

"This document is damning. This document is a killer. There's no way around it," Siebert said.

It's the written observations from Ryan's own senior investigator after he had questioned dozens of Precinct 6 workers. Employees were "told to falsify" time sheets to hide comp time, "inadequately trained supervisors" are not enforcing the simplest Harris County rules and regulations, a law enforcement agency where deputies were pressured to donate money to Trevino's campaign and charity.

"Well I know that has been alleged, yes," Ryan replied.

"Well your own report says it," we said.

"I have not seen or read Mr. Pearson's report from cover to cover," he said.

That may explain why Vince Ryan seemed stumped by this question:

"What is Christmas power?" we asked Ryan.

"Christmas power?" he replied. "Other than Christmas is a great holiday, I'm not quite sure what you're speaking of."

Ryan's own investigator concludes Victor Trevino's commanders have Christmas power. They get to decide who wears a badge and gun on the eastside. Ryan's own investigator called that the gift of "Christmas power." Deputies were told their "stock would go up" if they ponied up money. No one was told they'd have to pay up or be fired but there was "intimidation with the threat of loss of employment."

The investigator's conclusion "coercion, connections and Christmas power..."

"Any taxpayer, any voter reading this document should be sickened, should be appalled," Siebert said.

"You know what the definition of a cover-up is?" we asked Ryan.

"I bet you do though, Wayne," he replied.

Cover up: Concealment that attempts to prevent something scandalous from becoming public.

"Is the end game protecting Victor Trevino?" we asked Ryan.

"Of course not," he said.

The grand jury meets again on Friday, but Thursday night at 10, we'll expose more of the treasure trove of documents that we've got -- stuff we had to force the county attorney to give us.

Ryan claims he turned over any evidence he thought was appropriate to the DA. The DA's office says it's never even seen Ryan's final report. Of course, you haven't either.

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