AUSTIN (CN) - The state attorney general claims a phony Texas Highway Patrol Association took donations under false claims the money would help families of slain police officers, but spent more than $400,000 on credit-card purchases that included video games, movies, tickets to Sea World and Six Flags, airfare to Germany, hotel bills in Napa Valley, and "exorbitant vet bills" for an office cat.
Attorney General Greg Abbott secured an asset freeze against the Texas Highway Patrol Association after suing it and two affiliates, the Texas Highway Patrol Museum and THPA Services, and 10 of their directors, in Travis County Probate Court.
Texas says the defendants trick consumers into thinking they are associated with the Texas Department of Public Safety by using names "which illegally include 'Texas Highway Patrol' in their name," and using decals deceptively similar to the badge used by the real Highway Patrol.
In its 37-page complaint, the state says the defendants make bogus pitches by telephone, claiming they provide "trooper benefits" including "a monetary benefit of $10,000 to the survivors of any trooper who is killed in the line of duty," a $2,500 "funeral benefit," and dental insurance for the association's members and their families.
"Defendants falsely represent that 100% of the money solicited as donations will all be paid to the families of slain law enforcement officers," and also claim, also falsely, that donations to it are tax-deductible, Texas says.
Abbott say the defendant Texas Highway Patrol Museum "receives both cash and check donations on a daily basis and the donations can be as much as $10,000.00 a day." But "These cash donations are not kept in a locked secure box, but are kept in an unlocked filing cabinet. The office does not have video surveillance cameras and there are no checks and balances to insure accountability of funds."
The state claims the THPA executive vice-president, defendant Timothy Tierney, admitted he used cash donations to throw birthday lunches for his staff members, and the state's investigation shows a pattern of directors using donations for personal expenses.
Abbott's office analyzed credit card statements from the THPA's American Express and Citibank accounts, and found that from July 2009 to July 2010 the THPA entities charged more than $239,000 on their American Express credit card.
"Some of the charges included tickets to Sea World, airfare to Massachusetts, movie theater tickets and charges to a video game rental website. ... Such usage of the money of a public charity is a gross misuse of the funds and does nothing to further the purpose of the charitable mission.
"After analyzing the Citibank credit card, similar findings were made. For the time period September 2009 to June 2011 the organizations charged a total of '$169,875.50. Some of the charges included tickets to Salt Lake City, Utah, tickets to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, plane ticket to Germany, hotel charges from Napa Valley, California and visits to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema," the state says.
Texas says Tierney, who is paid an annual salary of more than $200,000, admits "he is the one person in the entities who pays the bills and is the only one with the authority to sign checks on behalf of the entities," but he does not keep track of his receipts, and never requires employees to give him receipts to verify all the charges are for legitimate business expenses.
"Tim Tierney has grossly misused the charity's money and is under the perception that as long as any expense incurred by him or anyone else within the organization is coded internally as a 'business expense,' then it is, in fact a legitimate business expense.
"Tim Tierney keeps an 'office cat' at the Oakland Avenue location in Austin and freely admits that he pays for the expenses of the cat, including exorbitant vet bills, with money donated by the public for the purpose of helping slain troopers' families. ... Tierney states that it is important to keep his employees happy and that is how he justifies having the office cat as a reasonable and prudent business expense."
Also sued are Kenneth Denton, of San Antonio; Mark Lockridge, of Waxahachie; Gregg Greer, of Halsville; Steve Jenkins, of Austin; Ruben Villalva, of El Paso; Ted Riojas, of Kyle; Fred Riojas, of Cibolo; James Colunga of Ennis; and Robert Bernard, of Richardson, for their roles as board members and directors of the THPA entities.
Texas seeks damages for deceptive trade, breach of fiduciary duties, violations of the Texas Law Enforcement Solicitation Act, fraud, violation of constructive trust, conspiracy to defraud, negligence and grossly negligent mismanagement.
The Travis County probate court granted Abbott's request for appointment of a temporary receiver to dissolve and liquidate the defendants' assets.
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