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Ex-D.A. in South Texas Gets 6 Months in Jail

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (CN) - A former district attorney from south Texas was sentenced Friday to 180 days in county jail and 10 years probation for misappropriating more than $2 million in asset forfeitures. Joe Frank Garza pleaded guilty in March to misapplication of fiduciary property, a first-degree felony.

Garza was district attorney in Texas' 79th District, which includes Brooks and Jim Wells Counties, from 2003 to 2008.

Nueces County District Judge Thomas Greenwell also ordered Garza, 64, to repay more than $2 million he misappropriated from the county for personal use.

Garza also was fined $10,000 and told to surrender his law license.

A grand jury indicted Garza in August 2010.

According to the indictment and court records, Garza took "$200,000 or more" in asset forfeitures and spent it on himself and his employees.

An audit conducted after Garza left office found that more than $1.2 million had been transferred to two of Garza's secretaries and his office's head of crime victims service. The Associated Press reported on the audit, citing the Alice News-Echo.

The money allegedly was spent on car allowances, stipends, reimbursements, advances, audits, travel and contract labor.

State law forbids district attorneys from using asset forfeitures to supplement their own salaries unless county commissioners approve it. They must get commissioners' approval before supplementing the salaries of county-paid employees with asset forfeitures.

State law does allow local authorities to keep and use forfeited assets, such as automobiles and equipment, or they can sell them and deposit the money. But the money can be used only for official purposes and cannot be converted for personal use.

Prosecutors said in a statement: "Despite those legal requirements, then-District Attorney Garza failed to obtain the necessary approval and instead improperly used the asset forfeiture funds under his control for his and others' personal financial benefit. Garza also never submitted a budget for the use of these funds to county commissioners for approval, as required by Texas law."

The Texas Attorney General's Office prosecuted Garza as district attorney pro tem, at the request of new 79th District Attorney Armando Barrera.

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