Was Vegas trip legitimate county business?

January 27, 2010 6:24:21 AM PST
It was a trip to Las Vegas that you paid for. The chief deputy of the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Department, and a candidate for sheriff, says the four day trip to Las Vegas with his wife was legitimate county business. Fort Bend Co. Chief Deputy Craig Brady says he volunteered to transfer an inmate. The destination: Las Vegas.

Brady admits he wanted to go to Las Vegas. Until this trip he says he'd never been there. But he says he did "nothing sinister." In fact, he insists the trip cost him personally several hundred dollars out of his own pocket because the county's per diem rate of $48 a day and that didn't cover meals and other expenses they incurred.

Inside the sheriff's warrant division, there are three deputies who are off duty because of health issues. So when the Ft. Bend Co. Sheriff's Office needed someone to go to Las Vegas last week, Chief Deputy Craig Brady and his wife, who is a detective also in the Ft. Bend Co. Sheriff's Office, agreed to go.

"I did watch one Las Vegas show, which I paid for, and I did spend a total of $20 in the slot machine at one casino at the hotel we stayed in," said Brady.

It was supposed to be a two-night, three-day trip to pick up a suspect who allegedly jumped bond. Authorities say he failed to appear in court in Ft. Bend County on a drug possession charge. Brady says even he at first questioned why it wasn't just an overnight trip.

"It was several hundred dollars cheaper going the other way, making it a two-night deal, instead of a direct turn around," said Brady.

County records indicate it actually was about $700 cheaper than an overnight trip. The county purchased a package deal which put them at the Stratosphere Hotel. The total price for hotel and air was $905.

Brady also says it was actually less expensive for the county to send him because he is salaried and does not receive overtime or comp time.

He says that's especially significant on this trip because as they made their way back home through Phoenix, they encountered bad weather. Brady and his wife were forced to return to Vegas and extend the trip by a day. He says a friend of a friend "comp'd" them a room for the night at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Because of all the weather, flights were booked and the only way they could get back to Texas on U.S. Air was to fly into the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. On day four of the trip, Brady says they rented a car and drove back to Fort Bend with the prisoner.

The commissioners court Tuesday approved the expenditures for the trip unanimously and without discussion.

"We don't have a problem with it. Just standard operating procedure," said Ft. Bend County Judge Robert Hebert.

Ft. Bend County Sheriff Milton Wright says he signed off on Brady's trip before he even went.

"I think the only issue was that it was to Las Vegas. People say, 'Oh, you're going to Vegas. Good time for a vacation.' This was not the case," said Sheriff Wright.

Brady says the only reason he is being questioned now about the trip is because he is running for sheriff in two years.

"I don't think I've done anything wrong. If it comes up again tomorrow, unless somebody can show me where it's wrong, I'd do it again," said Brady.

He notes that this is not the first out-of-state extradition he and his wife have done. He says they went to Ohio in 2008 and spent a lot more money on that trip, around $2,700. But he notes that in both trips the county saved money, because each time there was only one hotel room the county had to pay for, not two.

Ft. Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison says he was concerned at first when he heard about Brady's extradition trip to Las Vegas with his wife. He said he knew how it could look, but after talking with Sheriff Wright, Morrison says he's comfortable with it.