The Drug War Strikes Again

South Texas prosecutor is caught with his hands in the drug-cash drawer

The Drug War Strikes Again

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office announced yesterday that a South Texas grand jury has indicted former Jim Wells Co. District Attorney Joe Frank Garza for misapplication of fiduciary duty, for using asset forfeiture funds for his own personal gain.

A press release notes that Garza, who was voted out of office in 2008, misused more than $200,000 in seized funds over a period of seven years, from 2002-2008. In short, it's another tale of drug-war greed.

Or at least it sure looks that way. For sure, the Jim Wells Co. seat, Alice, roughly 120 miles from the border has seen its share of drugs busts and, consequently, its share of forfeited property and funds. State law allows law enforcers to take assets suspected as involved in illegal enterprise – but, notably, it does not allow county officials to line their own pockets with seizure funds. Indeed, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, an audit commissioned by the Jim Wells Co. commissioners after Graza left office revealed that the former DA spent more than $4.2 million in forfeited funds over a period of seven years on, among other things, trips to casinos and extra pay for staff (some $1.2 million for three secretaries who he considered his "eyes and ears" in the community, CNN reports).

Needless to say, asset forfeiture is big business for police and prosecutors who benefit wildly from the seizures. For example, according to the Texas Dept. of Public Safety, its troopers alone seized $4.6 million in assets in both 2008 and 2009. Multiply that by the hundreds of police agencies across the state and you get a sense of just how big this business is. Perhaps then it is not surprising that these seizures aren't always above board: Take the case of motorists unfortunate enough to be passing through Tenaha, who hadn't broken any laws but were nonetheless extorted by the local cops.

Indeed, according to a report released earlier this year by the Institute of Justice, the state of Texas gets a big fat grade of D- for its failure to protect individuals facing forfeiture, and for providing police a powerful motive to "police for profit." Seems that motive spills over into the courthouse too.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Drug War
4:20 on 5/3: Rally for Pot-Law Reform
4:20 on 5/3: Rally for Pot-Law Reform
Million Marijuana March this Saturday in Austin

Jordan Smith, May 1, 2014

Justice Says Legalize It
Justice Says Legalize It
Retired Supreme Court judge weighs in on pot prohibition

Jordan Smith, April 25, 2014

More by Jordan Smith
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
'Chrome Underground' Goes Classic Car Hunting
Motoreum's Yusuf & Antonio talk about the biz and their reality TV debut

May 22, 2014

APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
APD Brass Shifts Up, Down, Across
Musical chairs at Downtown HQ

May 9, 2014


Reefer Madness, asset forfeiture, drug war, cops, courts

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle