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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-South Texas D.A. Facing Jail Time

(CN) - A former district attorney from south Texas pleaded guilty to misappropriating asset forfeitures and agreed to repay $2 million to two counties. Joe Frank Garza, former 79th District Attorney, was charged with misapplication of fiduciary property, a first-degree felony.

A grand jury indicted Garza, 63, in August 2010. Garza was district attorney for Jim Wells and Brooks Counties in south Texas from 2003 to 2008.

According to the indictment and court records, Garza took "$200,000 or more" in asset forfeitures for himself, 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, according to an Associated Press report, which cited 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 that "under Texas law, district attorneys may only supplement their salaries - and their employees' salaries - from the forfeiture fund if the local county commissioners court approves the pay raises. 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.

The state seeks a 180-day sentence in Jim Wells County Jail as a condition of 10 years probation. A sentencing hearing has been set for May 6.

Prosecutors said Garza has agreed to repay $2.16 million to Jim Wells and Brooks Counties, pay a $10,000 fine and surrender his law license upon sentencing.

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