HOUSTON (CN) - A veteran Harris County constable and two top assistants were arrested and charged with taking bribes to check the National Crime Information Center database to run background checks on companies' prospective employees.
The constable and his former office chief also are charged with hiring an unqualified candidate for a $5,000 bribe.
Federal prosecutors unsealed a 13-count indictment against Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia, 78, Chief Lt. Weldon Wiener, 72, and former Office Chief Michael Butler, 56, shortly after arresting them.
The 13-count indictment charges the three men, all of Houston, with conspiring to violate federal laws; Abercia and Butler also are charged with bribery, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.
"Abercia and Wiener are charged in 11 counts alleging they accessed the NCIC database or caused another to access it on 11 occasions without authority or in excess of official authority in return for private financial gain," prosecutors said in the statement.
"Abercia and Wiener would, according to the indictment, solicit and accept cash bribes in return for having unauthorized criminal background checks run on prospective employees of various businesses. NCIC is restricted to genuine law enforcement purposes. Users must undergo training and screening, have passwords that are monitored and are instructed that the database is not to be used for non-law enforcement reasons nor beyond in the performance of their official duties.
"While the indictment charges 11 specific acts of unauthorized access or access in excess of official authority in November 2011, it also alleges the practice had been occurring in the office for a longer period of time."
Abercia and Butler were charged with bribery "in connection with the hiring of an otherwise unqualified applicant for a deputy constable position in return for a cash bribe totaling $5,000," prosecutors said.
The conspiracy charge is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Unauthorized computer access is punishable by up to 5 years in prison for each count, and bribery is punishable by 10 years. The men could be fined up to $250,000 for each count.
Abercia has colon cancer and previously announced he plans to resign on Jan. 31. He has been Harris County's Precinct 1 Constable since 1991.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.