Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Feds investigating Shelby DA in alleged Tenaha shakedown cases

According to the Associated Press (Oct. 25), the Shelby County District Attorney responsible for infamous asset forfeiture scandal in Tenaha is now herself facing scrutiny from federal prosecutors. The story opens:
The district attorney in a Texas county with a well-known drug-trafficking route repeatedly allowed suspected drug runners and money launderers to receive light sentences - or escape criminal charges altogether - if they forfeited their cash to prosecutors.

As a result, authorities collected more than $800,000 in less than a year using a practice that essentially let suspects buy their way out of allegations that, if proven, would probably have resulted in prison sentences.

"They were looking out for the treasury of their county instead of doing the job of protecting society," said R. Christopher Goldsmith, a Houston attorney who represented one of the defendants.

The system engineered by Shelby County District Attorney Lynda Kaye Russell is now one focus of a federal criminal investigation that is also reviewing whether Russell and other law enforcement officials targeted black motorists for traffic stops.

Interviews, court records and other documents reviewed by The Associated Press show numerous examples of suspects who went unpunished or got unusually light sentences after turning over tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The money from those and other defendants increased the DA's forfeiture account by more than two hundredfold and helped ease a tight budget. The county's former auditor has testified that at least a portion of it was spent on campaign materials, parades, holiday decorations, food, flowers, gifts and charitable contributions.

In one instance, a man accused of transporting 15 kilos of cocaine and more than $80,000 in cash got probation after forfeiting the money to the district attorney. When the Justice Department learned about the deal, federal officials regarded it as so outlandish that they took the rare step of building their own case.

In another case, a woman caught with more than $620,000 stuffed into Christmas presents walked away after reaching a similar agreement.

Russell, who has been district attorney in the county on the Texas-Louisiana border since 1999, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. She announced in June that she was resigning, effective at the end of the year, to care for her sick mother.

Law enforcement agencies across the country often seize money or property believed linked to criminal activity. If they can prove the link in civil court, authorities can take possession of it permanently. But it's highly unusual to make deals that provide suspects with freedom or leniency if they agree to forfeit their cash.


Anonymous said...

If you think this is crazy look at the trial held in Shelby County last week where the District Attorney and her Investigator had to testify in a perjury case. The case was tried by a Special Prosecutor and charges were against another local LE officer. Russell had to admit on the statnd she may have broken the law about discussing the case outside Court. She tried to say she did not know the rule had been evoked. Really..... Then her Investigator took the stand and pled the fifth. The Prosecution asked for a mistrial the Judge denied it and ruled for a directed verdict. You can see the coverage of the trial on KTRE, the local news station. Shelby County is a joke. But Lynda Kay isn't the only one. Take a look at Sheriff Yosemite Sam and his Dept.

Anonymous said...

Once again, the forteiture/seizure money perk of being the District Attorney keeps the corruption wheel turning faster and faster. Absolutely no accountability nor checks and balances on these offices. And as incident after incident has been reported here and withing other mediums, there isn't the slightest fear of reprocusion for conduct.
Prosecutoral discretion is in dire need of a good "power castration."

Richard Ellison said...

We have a similar problem in the HIll Country. The 198th District was featured by CNN/Anderson Cooper after they did the Tenaha expose. Then DA Ron Sutton got indicted for embezzling from the AF fund, pled guilty, then got early termination of his probation (good ol' boy club taking care of its own). Judge Emil Karl Prohl wasn't so lucky - he had other problems and had to plead guilty for a real conviction, got kicked off the bench and disbarred. Now the new DA Amos Barton has his own "198th District Attorney Police" force that does nothing but stop people on I-10. He pays three investigators $72K each from the AF fund, plus they have new Tahoes and health insurance benefits. I hope the FBI will come to Kerrville next.
Richard Ellison
Attorney, Kerrville