Texas Attorney General Accused of Bribery by Staff

In this June 22, 2017 file photo, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Seven of Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s senior staff have asked federal officials to investigate possible bribery and abuse of office charges against him, dropping a bombshell on the vocal supporter of President Donald Trump who is already facing felony securities fraud charges from his time in the Texas Legislature.

First reported Saturday, the staffers wrote a letter to Paxton’s office disclosing they reported him to federal law enforcement on Sept. 30 regarding crimes he allegedly committed “in his official capacity” as attorney general.

“We have a good faith belief that the Attorney General is violating federal and/or state law, including prohibitions relating to improper influences, abuse of office, bribery, and other potential criminal offenses,” the one-page letter dated Oct. 1 states. “Each signatory below has knowledge of facts relevant to these potential offenses and has provided statements concerning those facts to the appropriate law enforcement authority.”

The staffers informed Paxton, 57, of McKinney, via text message on Oct. 1 of their reports to law enforcement, the letter states. The seven include former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer — who resigned several days ago — Deputy First Assistant Attorney General Ryan Bangert, Deputy Attorney General for Civil Litigation Darren McCarty, Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Ryan Vassar and Deputy Attorney General for Administration Lacey Mase.

Paxton’s office quickly denied the allegations late Saturday evening, stating the staffers acted to “impede an ongoing investigation into criminal wrongdoing by public officials, including employees of this office.”

“Making false claims is a very serious matter and we plan to investigate this to the fullest extent of the law,” Paxton’s office said in a statement.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott declined to comment on the allegations Sunday morning, stating the “allegations raise serious concerns.”

“I will withhold further comment until the results of any investigation are complete,” Abbott said in a statement.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said Sunday he learned about the accusations from the media.

“These issues are obviously concerning,” he said. “I will wait until the investigation is complete before making any additional comments.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday morning.

Doubts over Paxton’s ethics have followed him for over five years. A Collin County grand jury charged Paxton in August 2015 with two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud and a third-degree felony count of failing to register with the Texas State Securities Board from his time in the Texas House. 

Prosecutors claim Paxton urged investors to invest $600,000 in technology firm Servergy without disclosing he would earn a commission and misrepresented he was investing in the McKinney-based company.

Paxton faces up to 99 years in state prison if convicted. The criminal case has been mired in pre-trial for over five years as the case has been moved to Harris County and back while Paxton has launched several attempts at having the judge removed. 

In the meantime, the case did not prevent Paxton from serving his entire first term as attorney general. He narrowly won reelection in 2018 with 50.6% of the vote over Democrat Justin Nelson.

Paxton has repeatedly denied the criminal charges against him, blaming his political opponents for retaliating against him for opposing policies by then-President Barack Obama.

“I’m here to tell you that I am not going anywhere,” Paxton said in May 2016. “And I want you to know that I will continue to do the job that I was elected to do. I want to assure you and all Texans that I am standing up for liberty, defending the Constitution and fighting against the illegal actions of the Obama administration.”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a similar civil lawsuit against Paxton in April 2016 in federal court in Dallas over the Servergy matter. U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant dismissed that lawsuit six months later, finding Paxton “did not have a legal obligation to disclose his financial arrangements” to the firm’s investors.

One year later, a Dallas-area district attorney launched an ethics probe into Paxton accepting a $100,000 gift for his legal defense fund from James Webb, leader of a company that was being investigated for Medicaid fraud.

Webb’s company, Preferred Imaging LLC, agreed in July 2016 to pay $3.5 million to resolve a whistleblower’s False Claims Act and Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act claims that it engaged in improper billing. Webb’s company admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. The Texas Penal Code forbids public officials from accepting “any benefit from a person the public servant knows to be subject to regulation, inspection or investigation by the public servant or his agency.”

Kaufman County District Attorney Erleigh Wiley — a fellow Republican — announced in October 2017 she would not charge Paxton in the matter because “Paxton had a personal relationship with the donor, in addition to a prior attorney/client relationship” which qualifies as an exception under the law.

Paxton denied any wrongdoing regarding Wiley’s investigation, stating his office did not investigate Webb’s firm because his office “never received a referral” and that federal prosecutors “took the lead” in the investigation and settlement.

Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, was the first Republican member of the Texas House to comment on the latest accusations against Paxton, stating he is “innocent until proven guilty” but that he has been under indictment for five years.

“With these new allegations of bribery and abuse of office, Paxton needs to quickly address these allegations or resign so he can devote his time to his own personal legal matters,” Davis tweeted Sunday.

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