Monday, May 04, 2009

Company associated with chair of white-collar crime panel subject of fraud investigation

Man alive! You can't make up ironies like this one:

The chair of the White Collar Crime Subcommittee of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee is affiliated with a company that's been accused of securities fraud by state and federal white-collar crime investigators, Texas Monthly's Nate Blakeslee reports. Nate poses the question thusly: "How does a man like Allen Fletcher, a retired police sergeant who spent years heading a white-collar-crimes unit at the Houston Police Department, find himself in business with a group of alleged con artists?" Ouch!

It's too early to speculate whether placing Fletcher in charge of white collar crime policy amounted to putting a fox in charge of the henhouse: But I'll bet if Chairman Gallego had known this backstory when he made the appointment he would have chosen someone else.

For his part, the freshman Republican "said he was a victim of deception in that case as well and denied any wrongdoing." A federal case against his business partner was later dropped but could be refiled. (Read the full story as my overview here does not do it justice.) For now, I'll take Fletcher at his word that he was involved in no wrongdoing until I see evidence to the contrary.

That said, Nate Blakeslee is the ace reporter who first broke the story about the Tulia drug stings that led to his excellent book-length investigation of the case. He later was first to report about alleged sexual abuse at the Texas Youth Commission that turned that agency on its ear. So when Nate raises a red flag, in my experience, it generally behooves a wise observer to pay attention.

On the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Fletcher has seemed like a nice guy with no particular axe to grind. He's at times more thoughtful than some others on the panel but, unsurprisingly for an ex-cop, can also exhibit a greater degree of tunnel vision than I might prefer. (I attribute that to being a freshman; people tend to grow into these jobs.) He's been a consistently conservative vote - pretty much what you'd expect from someone whose political patron is state Sen. Dan Patrick, who donated $68K in radio ads and direct mail services to Fletcher' campaign and whose chief of staff was Fletcher's consultant.

The first time I met Rep. Fletcher earlier this year, before committees had been appointed yet and not long after the legislative session had begun, the first thing he said to me upon learning I worked for the Innocence Project of Texas was that, as a former police officer, he knew that the hardest thing in the world was to undo a false conviction because once someone was wrongly accused, suspicion would forever continue to hang over them. So I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and not presume without evidence that Fletcher knew about his business partners' alleged misdeeds. (Though arrests were made three months before his primary election, Blakeslee reported, the "raid was not reported in the press, and Fletcher was not publicly linked to the investigation.")

However, Fletcher and his partners had a checkered history together and Blakeslee's article at a minimum raises questions about Fletcher's judgment, who he associates with and how he runs his businesses. And there are parts of Blakeslee's story - like an elderly cop friend who loaned Fletcher $50,000 and died without getting it back - that could be immensely damaging if run on a TV ad or via direct mail.

Which is the problem with this story coming out now - AFTER the fellow has been chairing a legislative subcommittee on white-collar crime for two months, for heaven's sake. This is the kind of story you wish the local press or an opponent's campaign had discovered during election season so it could be discussed when voters could do something about it instead of bringing it up at crunch time late in session.

With the number of newspapers and professional reporters in a free fall, increasingly it will fall to political campaigns and parties to vet opposing candidates running for public office because there's no longer an independent institutional player (i.e., a local newspaper) performing the function. Clearly Fletcher's incumbent opponent - Republican Corbin Van Arsdale - didn't invest enough money in opposition research (a business I was in myself for a dozen years and 68 campaigns). This appears to all be stuff they could have found through routine records searches at the Harris and Montgomery courthouses if somebody had bothered to run the traps at the time.

MORE: Rick Casey at the Houston Chronicle has Fletcher's reaction to the Texas Monthly story.


Anonymous said...

Where is the Rick Perry angle?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Huh? I don't think there is one.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to throw that in there, haven't seen a Rick Perry angle in days...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Now, now ... he showed up in a "bonus question" at the end of this post just yesterday. :)

Anonymous said...

ahahaha.. ok you got me. Sorry. 8)

On a more serious note, I would like to know how this retired police person got himself involved with an org that did this sort of thing. Aren't ex-cops supposed to be the fact finders and smell when something is dirty? The company might be totally clean, as they have yet to have anything formal against them, but for an investigation to even be started, there must be something there to make someone say 'hmmm'.