13 Undercover

13 Undercover has bone to pick with county attorney

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Under fire for spending $100,000 of your money on a dogfighting movie, the county attorney may be making a bad situation even worse.

Politicians love to brag about what they've done for us, and Vince Ryan promised you a crackdown on dogfighting. But is he now claiming credit for something he has not done?

It's illegal, downright cruel. And what politician in their right mind wouldn't want dogfighting stopped?

"I've had dogs and loved dogs my whole life," Ryan said.

But on Thursday night, we questioned why the county attorney's office hired an out-of-town buddy of his top aide to make a movie about dogfighting, complete with scenes of the county attorney playing with his dog on the beach.

"It sort of looks like a campaign commercial," we told Ryan.

"Well Wayne, I've said for years and years, and you probably should use it, the best government is also good politics; good politics is the best government," Ryan said.

Animal abuse is one of the reasons Ryan likes to boast about his special prosecutions unit.

"Is the SPU (special prosecutions unit) meant to gain votes?" we asked Ryan.

"No, it's meant to enforce the law and make sure that the property owners are complying with the law," he said.

Maybe Ryan should tell his office. In this 2011 memo, the lawyer in charge talks about more than helping neighborhoods: "Without a dedicate SP Unit, there will be loss of name recognition for Vince. It could cost votes."

Your county attorney does has power to seize real estate and money from dogfighters when they are caught. But does he use it? Last week, he was boasting big results.

"Can you tell us how many dogfighting rings your office has broken up?" we asked Ryan.

"Not off the top of my head, but more than probably any other law enforcement agency in Harris County," he said.

Impressive. But we found no evidence it's true.

The last big dogfighting ring in Harris County was actually busted in 2008. Vince Ryan wasn't even in office yet. And since 2010, only 12 people have actually been arrested and charged with dogfighting, and none of the cases originated in the county attorney's office.

"We've stopped dogfighting, yes, in various locations," Ryan told us.

"In Harris County?" we asked.

"In Harris County," he said.

"Your office has?" we asked.

"Yes."

But again, the county attorney's office didn't produce a single case.

"Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has seized more animals than any prosecutor in the history of the United States," First Assistant Harris County Attorney Terry O'Rourke said.

In U.S. history?

"It is silly," KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy said.

The county attorney's office first pointed to the seizure of 1,100 animals in 2010, but that was mostly birds. They county attorney's office now is trying to take credit for 4,000 animals actually seized by other agencies since 2009. Their involvement was solely legal work done after the seizure, not before.

"Seizing someone's statistics for political gain, which is inappropriate," Androphy said.

E-mails show the SPCA even complained Ryan's office wasn't coming to court anymore on animal cruelty cases. A county lawyer admitted in an e-mail on "extraordinary cases we would try to find someone."

Big seizures of mistreated animals do get on TV.

Vince Ryan could have used campaign money to pay for his dog movie. He's been given $350,000, but he chose to use your money. And guess where he got it? From that special toll road fund we've exposed before.

You get a huge fine get when you don't pay a toll and a dollar of it goes to the Harris County Attorney's Office.

"This is pure and simple a county attorney's office slush fund," said taxpayer advocate Bob Lemer.

They used it for parties four years ago, but Mike Stafford got voted out.

Vince Ryan has used the fund to pay some catering bills and still pays parking for many of his employees. Remember that when you have to pay to park for jury duty.

"This fund is set up so that it's under the sole discretion of the county attorney," said Assistant Harris County Auditor Mike Post.

So Ryan can spend your money any way he likes. He could have used the money to pay the salaries of the county lawyers who work on the toll road; but instead, they hired that movie director to make the dog video without providing any evidence they bothered to shop for the best deal.

"Obviously there is more exposure there if you have fewer controls," Post said.

"I will go back and look at and talk to legislative delegation to see what we can do about that," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

And Vince Ryan is supposed to be your watchdog.

"Wrong title Wayne. This should be titled the lap dogs," Texas Watchdog Editor Trent Siebert said.

In the last election, Vince Ryan campaigned as the guy who'd crackdown on ethics violations in county government, be your watchdog. But who is he really protecting? Next week, 13 Undercover is back.

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

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