Harris Co. DA launches investigation into Constable Trevino's office
HOUSTON -- A criminal investigation is underway at Constable Victor Trevino's office. The district attorney's office probe was sparked by a series of exclusive reports from 13 Undercover.
DA investigators seized a computer hard drive on a printer in the constable's office after we exposed evidence county equipment was misused for the constable's political campaign. Now, new questions about cash and whether taxpayers are being shortchanged.
When Jaime Hernandez was late on his rent, he got one of these:
"It's a letter to the tenant saying you are behind in your rent and you need to pay up or leave," KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy said.
Landlords could simply mail the notice, but constables are allowed to deliver them -- on their own time, out of uniform and not in a patrol car. But that's not what happened to Jaime.
"In uniform... with a Precinct 6 (badge) and the patrol car," he said.
Receipt logs we got from Victor Trevino's office show his office delivers lots of vacate notices using uniformed deputies in patrol cars.
"You were confused whether it was legal or not to use uniformed officers in patrol cars to do this?" we asked Trevino.
"Exactly," he replied.
"How much did you charge for that?" we asked.
"I believe it was $20," he replied.
Twenty dollars, cash only. But taxpayers, you don't get the money -- the constable's office does.
"Did the deputy that went out and did the work get any of the money?" we asked.
"No," he replied.
Since January, more than $7,000 in cash was delivered to Precinct 6.
"In vacate money?" Trevino asked us.
"Yes sir," we said. "It was 20 bucks a head. Get there pretty quick," we said.
"I have not see that," he replied.
And there's no paper trail telling you what happened to your money.
"Where'd that money go?" we asked Trevino.
"It was used here for the office or for the charity," he said.
See a pattern here? The constable cashed campaign checks, checks from the charity he founded all at convenience stores, often large amounts, no paper trail on where the cash went.
"The practice you described is not one that -- it just on the smell test doesn't look good. Doesn't take a genius to say that; you don't like it as a policy," Harris County Assistant County Attorney Terry O'Rourke said.
There are 70 deputies in Precinct 6. Many are contract deputies.
"Contract deputy programs there is essential for the safety and security of literally hundreds of thousands of people," O'Rourke said.
Maybe your neighborhood has one.
In Precinct 6, they work the contract neighborhood most of the time but also patrol outside it -- at least that's the way it's supposed to work. Taxpayers pay 20 percent of the cost of the deputy and the car.
"You're looking at that like you're really the expert on it," Trevino told us.
No constable, not an expert but in Precinct 6, it sure looks like taxpayers are subsidizing security for select private companies. Gulf Gate Mall -- calls for service records this year show the deputies there rarely leave the mall parking lot. Good deal for the owners.
See that little building with a Precinct 6 logo on it, the county cars outside? We found it in the back of the parking lot of Baker Oil Tool. Three contract deputies are assigned there. We looked at their calls for service for eight months. The officers virtually never answered any call for help outside that parking lot.
"I think calls for service is one way to measure it. I don't believe that's the only way to measure their role," Trevino said.
So why don't we ask the guardians of the company parking lot? Funny what you hear on hidden camera...
"Your only assignment is to just be in here?" we asked one of the deputies.
"Here, that's it, yeah," he responded.
Unless of course another deputy needs help.
"If something really, really bad was going on, or there is somebody close by getting their butt kicked or something," the deputy told us.
The obvious question: If Baker Oil is paying 80 percent of their salary, why are they getting just about 100 percent of their time?
The constable says he's doing you a favor because Houston police patrol the same area.
"HPD has been, I think, allowed the opportunity to answer other calls in other areas," Trevino said.
The constable says he's conducting his own review of the emails and financial records raising so many questions. He's been doing it for a couple of months.
As one of his top commanders, Captain Tyrone Berry, suggests on hidden camera, he's prepared to finger the guy in charge...
"I have some documents that will exonerate me and put the blame on the constable," Berry said.
Since our investigation began, the constable's office has been in damage control mode, warning employees not to work on the charity Trevino founded or his political campaign on county time. And they stopped doing those vacate notices.
Our latest anonymous letter from the precinct says "Thank you for saving us."
13 undercover, wayne dolcefino
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