13 Undercover

13 Undercover probe will follow badge, money

Friday, September 21, 2012

The grand jury investigating eastside Constable Victor Trevino may finish it's work next week. But whatever happens, taxpayers may never know the whole truth, as the county's watchdog fights to keep details of his probe a secret.

A year after we questioned if deputy constables were being pressured to fund their bosses' campaigns, you can't help but notice that a lot of Victor Trevino's campaign funds this year still come from folks who owe him their jobs -- and one contribution really stood out.

A Precinct 4 deputy pulls over a car for speeding. The driver flashes a police ID.

"Who do you work with?" the officer asks.

"Constable," the driver replies.

The ID comes from Victor Trevino's office.

"Are you a deputy, a sworn deputy?" the officer asks.

"Yes I am," the driver replies.

Actually he was one of those Precinct 6 civilian liaisons. The guy didn't have an actual badge. But this guy did: It was discovered when the DEA arrested him for alleged involvement in a pill mill operation. The constable's explanation at the time:

"Constable Trevino never authorized and never would authorize the production, delivery of a badge to a community liaison," Trevino's attorney, Chip Lewis, said.

Later Trevino's lawyer told us a Precinct 6 corporal named J.W. Caldwell had the badge made and then just gave the guy a badge without approval.

"That's not a Walmart badge," we told Lewis.

"No it's not. It looks way too real and that's part of the constable's concern and I'm confident the district attorney is concerned also," Lewis said.

Caldwell is still on the Precinct 6 payroll with the same rank. And when we looked at Victor Trevino's latest campaign report, after his re-election, guess whose name is listed as one of his biggest political contributors he has? Yep, the corporal -- $1,500.

So went back to the constable's lawyer, quoting, "I do not view the contribution as payback. I view the contribution as someone who recognized the great service Constable Trevino has provided his constituents."

And in Victor Trevino's office, you apparently need a written policy to tell you that you can't make a badge and give it away, quoting, "As there were no previous guidelines re the badges, I am not certain it would have been proper to punish Caldwell."

Chip Lewis says Trevino was instructed by the county attorney's office to abstain from punishing anyone.

"Have you told the constable not to take action against any of his employees?" we asked Ryan.

"I have not," he replied.

Despite a year of revelations about Precinct 6, your watchdog says he hasn't even talked directly to Victor Trevino.

"I have not had a personal conversation with Constable Trevino about any of these matters. I purposely have our assistant county attorneys and investigators do one on one," Ryan said.

"The system itself is a system bred for corruption," Ted Lyon said.

Former State Sen. Ted Lyon has been a special prosecutor in Dallas County.

"I have had some political heat in Dallas," Lyon said.

Because he's done what we're done here -- investigate constables, except he did his work up in big D.

"The elected constables pressuring their employees to give them money in order to be able to play the game and that's just not right. It's corrupt," Lyon said. "It goes back to the days of Huey Long in Louisiana, where they had that little tin pot that you had to kick into the tin pot. That kind of political abuse has been around for a long time."

And your watchdog says he's seen no reason to try to remove Trevino from office.

"You ran as an ethics watchdog. Can you honestly sit here and tell me that Victor Trevino and these commanders -- Chief Lopez and the slush fund, Cpl. Caldwell giving out badges, charity checks, cash where no one knows where the money went -- could you honestly tell me that's not enough information for you to go to a court and say enough is enough?" we asked Ryan.

"Wayne, your headlines are not the rest of the story. We as the attorneys for Harris County government, we review the rest of story and it's always much more complex than the headlines you try to have every night on the news," he said.

But his opponent in November has seen enough in the documents the watchdog was forced to give us to make this choice.

"You would have moved to remove Victor Trevino, if you knew what we now know?" we asked Robert Talton.

"Yes," he replied.

We expect more testimony next week at the grand jury investigating Trevino. Regardless of the outcome, Vince Ryan's office holds the only written report of the constable's investigation and he's still keeping it secret from you.

On Friday night, Trevino posted the following statement on his Facebook page:

"This past Wednesday I cooperated with a grand jury. Due to legal reasons I cannot share the discussions inside these hearings, but I do want to express my gratitude to my family and friends for their unconditional support and love. The present challenges will not define who I am and will not change our accomplishments for the past 23 years. Please keep in mind that the media is in the entertainment business. It has been over a year since this turmoil began at Precinct 6, however, we have continued to make progress by moving ahead; and we will continue to progress with your recent 77% re-election votes. We have always strived to make your office at Precinct 6 a transparent one and will continue to move in that direction. There have been numerous changes at Precinct 6 and more positive changes are yet to come. I strongly believe there is room for improvement in any government agency and Precinct 6 is no exception to this rule. As always, I will continue to work toward maintaining a safer environment for the people of Harris County through crime prevention, enforcing the law and preserving the peace. I have always believed and will continue to support and promote Community involvement between our Law Enforcement Officers and our children, our elderly and all the people of this county. I will also continue to promote and support partnering with our businesses to improve the quality of life for our people of Harris County. I am humbled by your prayers and your overwhelming support. You have been there for me and my family for the past 37 years of my Law Enforcement career and I humbly thank you. Together We Will Continue The Progress."

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