13 Undercover

Is a constable trading police IDs for campaign cash?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Are people trading campaign cash for police IDs? That's the question we have for Constable May Walker. After you watch this story, you might ask, "Where do I get a badge?"

Why does someone want a police ID if they're not a cop? Is it just fun or could it be a get-out-of-jail-free card that comes with a price?

Meet Jim Rutherford.

"If you would have called, I would have paid it, you know that?" Rutherford can be seen saying in a video.

Yes, he's the guy yelling.

Rutherford owed $200,000 in back taxes when the county tax agents showed up to seize his Bentley. Someone made sure the car was blocked in.

And Mr. Rutherford, he was armed -- no, not with a gun and he's not a cop. But the tax office says he did flash a police ID from Harris County Constable Precinct 7, an ID just like this one. It sure looks official. There's a place for fingerprints and a badge; it says police advisor.

"What's your first instinct when you see this?" we asked former county judge Robert Eckels.

"Well, they indicate the person is a police advisor of some official capacity with that agency," Echols said.

"When I came here in 2005, I decided to have people who could that help me with programs, that can help me financially, that can help me anything I need at Precinct 7 and be the eyes and ears of the community," May Walker said.

Eckels helped pass the state law regulating unofficial police IDs.

"A legitimate advisor position is probably OK; indiscriminate distribution, yeah, that's bad practice," Eckels said.

It made us wonder how did a bankrupt health care company owner in west Houston get to be a police advisor to a constable on the other side of town? He must be a big fan of May Walker.

Jim Rutherford and his company were among the largest political contributors to May Walker's campaign ever since she's been a constable -- $5,000 here and $3,750 more from his company. In a constable's campaign, that's a lot of money.

"It would raise the question, legitimately cause the question to be asked, is there something going on here?" Eckels said.

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but campaign records we looked at show us many of the current police advisors have given generously to keep the constable in office.

"That's probably not the politics you want to see in Texas today," Eckels said.

When we asked for a list of people who used to be advisors, the constable claimed she couldn't find the records.

Jim Rutherford isn't a police advisor any more, and we couldn't find him to talk about his major financial backing of May Walker. But we did ask one of Precinct 7's current police advisors what his duties are for the police ID he has. The answer? Nothing. He told us the ID might help if you get pulled over by a real cop.

Wouldn't you like one, too?

"It implies a relationship from the constable saying, 'This is my friend,'" Eckels said.

The constable won't sit down with us to answer all our questions on camera, but at a press conference last week, she admitted her police advisors help her keep her job.

"I know some of them are philanthropists, some are, you know, they are people that are established in the community and they became my advisors and they assist me with programs, they assist me with anything that we do at Precinct 7 and they also assist me financially," Walker said.

It kind of sounds like you can get a badge for the right price, but don't take our word for it.

In a county computer, we found a document for the ministers supporting Precinct 7. Some of them were at that press conference last week for moral support. They were promised a badge. One of the requirements? Each minister shall be required to support the May Walker Scholarship Fund.

"It was the choice of the ministers to do that and a lot of them don't participate. It's whatever they want to do," Walker said.

May Walker gets much of her campaign money from the people who owe her their jobs. A lot of it is collected in cash from a Precinct 7 commander using emails on a county computer to do it.

"They wanted to support me with that barbecue, the barbecue is part of a fundraiser for my campaign," Walker said.

Rahda Patel is one of a long list of deputies fired from Precinct 7, accused of not serving court papers. But she still has copies of those checks to May Walker's campaign, a donation she felt she had to make.

"We actually have to write a check out for that. Instead of writing it out for a light bill or a gas bill or the guy who cuts my grass, I got to write checks to her," Patel said.

Remember the constable claims none of her employees who owe her their jobs were forced to give her money.

Document the connection between police IDs and campaign money with the help of our 13 Undercover interactive. We'll even show you who has current IDs -- maybe you know them.

The following is from the latest comments from Pct. 7 Constable May Walker on this story. They were received in a letter to KTRK management dated November 16, 2011:

    "On Wednesday, Wayne will be airing a piece in reference to my Advisors. Yes, I have Advisor: Let me tell you who and what my Advisors are used for and why I have chosen them. The Advisors I've chosen are a multi-cultural diverse group of concern citizens from all parts of Harris County who have committed to supporting this department by financially assisting me in programs and projects that will enhance the Pct. 7 community. They've also agreed to be the eyes and ears of the department from within Pct. 7 community as well as outside the community, in order to ferret out any negative information in the community concerning the department, they then share that information with me so that I may modify any need changes. Many of my advisors suggest programs and projects for me to implement and some don't. Each Advisor that I've chosen was vetted and carefully investigated before they were given my credential.

    The person that Wayne will focus on during his investigative piece this Wednesday night at 10:00pm will be Mr. Jim Rutherford. Yes Mr. Rutherford was an advisor for Pct 7 in 2008 & 2009. Mr. Jim Rutherford was vetted before he became one of my advisors and had no problems. What Mr. Rutherford does in his personal life I cannot control, but I can tell you what he has done for Pct. 7. He has sponsored my Scholarship Golf Tournament in 2009 that provide a full four year scholarship plus book stipend for two high school students.

    He also participated with my May Day Health Fair by organizing volunteer medical doctors and staff who administered free health screening to the May Fair attendees, all this at no cost. Mr. Rutherford has been an active participant in providing positive critiques for the development of Pct. 7 policies."

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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