Constable Victor Trevino indicted by grand jury on 4 counts

November 17, 2012 5:06:36 AM PST
Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino was indicted Friday on four felony charges. The 14 month long investigation of Trevino was sparked by our own 13 Undercover probe into his office.

13 Undercover started its work after an outcry from employees. Over months, the reports detailed questionable spending and record-keeping inside the Precinct 6 constable's office. Trevino's lawyer calls these technical violations. Texas law calls them felonies that could send the long-time constable to prison.

The first charge is misapplication of fiduciary property, in which Trevino allegedly did not document where he spent thousands in cash donations to his CARE charity. The two counts of tampering with government records are for alleged campaign donations accepted, but never reported. And the last charge is abuse of official capacity. Trevino allegedly used on-duty employees to deliver eviction and vacate notices, something that shouldn't be paid for with tax dollars.

For 23 years, Trevino has been an elected constable; arguably Houston's most well-known lawman and biggest east side community booster. But as this grand jury investigation closed in on him, the normally camera happy constable went quiet.

It was the constable's own employees who reached out for help, sending 13 Undercover anonymous letters a year and a half ago begging, "please help us at Precinct 6." A former employee told 13 Undercover that employees felt pressured to donate their own money and their taxpayer paid time to Trevino's charity and his political campaign to keep the jobs your tax dollars pay them to do.

Former Precinct 6 employee Anna Nunez had a front row seat in Trevino's back office.

Wayne Dolcefino: You thought this was a shakedown?
Anna Nunez: Absolutely.

She personally collected some of the money from deputies; cash bound for Trevino's charity and campaign

"What made me upset was seeing officers on their own time pulling out cash and personal checks," said Nunez. "They all feared for their jobs."

Trevino told 13 Undercover in August 2011,"To make anyone feel compelled or forced to volunteer to participate is not acceptable."

He denied it then, and his lawyer has since. But emails 13 Undercover unearthed last year show deputies complaining about Trevino's drumbeat for charity donations, "he's killing us," one wrote. Supervisors emailing underlings, "do I have to remind you who you work for?"

The grand jury failed to indict Trevino with pressuring employees to donate, but did say that some donations were improperly or in some cases never reported.

And when it came to spending charity money, Trevino couldn't provide many receipts. 13 Undercover showed thousands of dollars in checks cashed at east side convenience stores with little record of where the money was spent.

Wayne Dolcefino: When I see checks like this, you are not buying chips and drinks, you're cashing checks.
Constable Victor Trevino: That's possible.
Dolcefino: You are or you aren't?
Trevino: Of course.

Trevino called it sloppy but insists the money helped needy neighbors and did not line his own pocket. His lawyer blames bad accounting.

And then there's the way Trevino dispatched his deputies. 13 Undercover found evidence that the constable used on-duty, uniformed deputies to serve eviction and property vacate notices. They were $20 a piece, and the money went right to the command staff with little to no record of where the money was spent.

Earlier Friday, Constable Trevino went before the grand jury to testify for the second time. More than 165 people were interviewed during the grand jury's investigation.

In past interviews, Trevino acknowledged that he became lax. On Friday, Trevino's attorney insisted the constable never lined his owned pockets.

"Not one witness in all that they called, not one record said that Victor Trevino used any of this money to personally enrich himself," said attorney Chip Lewis.

He called the indictment a "product of old school law enforcement meets modern regulations," referring to the fact that Trevino is not a professional accountant.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told us on Friday that Trevino should step aside immediately, at least until the charges are settled. Texas law allows Trevino to serve under indictment. And his lawyer says Trevino plans to do just that.

If convicted, Trevino could go to prison for 24 years. He faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine if convicted on the misapplication charge and six months to two years in state jail and up to a $10,000 fine on the other charges if convicted.

This is the latest in a series of county employees indicted on felony charges in the past year.

You probably remember the scene outside FBI headquarters just hours after former Harris County Constable Jack Abercia was arrested back in January. Abercia was charged in a 13 count indictment that accused him of bribery and conspiracy.

Just days before Abercia's arrest, former Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole pled guilty to lying to investigators as part of a deal to avoid jail time. He was originally accused of accepting bribes.

All three of these indictments followed extensive 13 Undercover investigations. You can see those reports on abc13.com anytime by clicking on 13 Undercover tab on the left-hand side of the home page.

Stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest on this story.

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