13 Undercover keeps heat on the watchdog

September 20, 2012 8:14:34 PM PDT
Did 13 Undercover break up a slush fund at a local constable's office? We have some documents that the county attorney didn't want you to see.

Vince Ryan says you're his number one client, yet he spends your money to keep you from seeing what his office discovered when it investigated the constables.

But he couldn't keep it all secret from us.

"Is the end game protecting Victor Trevino?" we asked Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan.

"Of course not," he said.

It was a year ago this month when 13 Undercover started asking where all your money went -- like the thousands in cash Trevino's office collected every year when it served those vacate notices on tenants.

"In vacate money?" Trevino asked us.

"Yes sir. That's twenty bucks a head; you get there pretty quick," we replied.

"I have not seen that," he said.

At times, Trevino's office was even using on-duty deputies in county patrol cars to help get the cash.

So we told the county attorney's office.

"But I can tell you we're looking at it. We will get back to you on that one. That's a serious issue," First Assistant Harris County Attorney Terry O'Rourke told us then.

A year later we are still waiting, even though documents we now have prove Vince Ryan's office had key evidence as early as last September about the cash and where it was going. And it was the very first constable commander they talked to: "Chief C. Lopez stated the money was collected and given to the constable," used for office supplies and staff lunches.

We then tried to show the watchdog what Chief Lopez told investigators when she talked to them again in February of this year.

"I'd have to read this whole page, so unless..." Ryan said.

"Go ahead, we've got time," we said.

"Well I, unfortunately, have a 3:30 appointment," he said.

We waited, but here's the highlight: Carolyn Lopez told investigators, "We used to have a slush fund but we don't have that anymore."

Was she talking about the vacate money?

A year ago, we had questioned the constable about the very same thing.

"So you have your employees out there in the heat, delivering vacate notices for free so everybody here could go to lunch in the administrative office? Is that fair?" we had asked Trevino.

"Well obviously, like I said, I know that in my 23 years, my commitment has been to providing good public service. Whether I've become lax, that's obvious," he said.

They don't have that vacate money anymore.

"Only after you started investigating did this slush fund go away. It didn't go away, it dried up," Texas Watchdog Editor Trent Siebert said.

The dictionary says a slush fund is "an unregulated fund often used for illicit purposes," but not to your watchdog.

"It sounds like she is talking conversationally," Ryan said.

We had asked Victor Trevino 15 months ago where we could find receipts for how they spent the cash.

"Where did that money go?" we asked Trevino.

"It was used here for the office or for the charity," he said.

CARE was the charity Victor Trevino founded and ran out of his county office. If he had records of giving money to charity, he sure didn't give them to us.

"Do you have records of donating it to the charity?" we had asked Trevino.

"There may be some. There may be some records. I know that we ... there's none?" he said.

Victor Trevino has refused for a year to give us all the financial records from the charity. Neither the county attorney or the district attorney has made him. The charity is now closed.

"I am stepping down because I know something ain't right," Pct. 6 Captain Tyrone Berry said on our hidden camera.

Pct. 6 Captain Tyrone Berry is still a commander but resigned as the charity treasurer last year after we asked to see the records.

We've already have told you some of the charity's checks were cashed at convenience stores, with no paper trail of where the money went.

"Reluctantly I signed blank checks because I was instructed to do so," Berry said.

Now Captain Berry's lawyer claims some of those checks with his signature were forged.

"He feels like a victim?" we asked Berry's attorney, Richard Cobb.

"Oh, he not only feels it, in my opinion he is a victim," Cobb replied.

But that's not news to Vince Ryan's office. We know that based on notes from Captain Berry's interview with Ryan's investigators several months ago, quoting "I never authorized anyone to sign my name."

But what did Ryan's office do with all that evidence? Who knows. Even the district attorney has not seen the final investigative report from Ryan's office. But now some of the documents Ryan wanted to keep secret are out there for all voters to see.

"It's there in black and white. This cuts open Precinct 6 and cuts open the county attorney's office," Siebert said.

You know how many folks Vince Ryan has sought to punish at Precinct 6 after all these revelations for a year? None. You know how much he's sought to get back for you? Zero.

So we'll keep the heat on the watchdog, Friday night at 10.


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