The Drug War Strikes Again
South Texas prosecutor is caught with his hands in the drug-cash drawer
By Jordan Smith,
8:19AM, Thu. Aug. 19, 2010
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.