After months of speculation and allegation, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Pflugerville, has been indicted by a Travis County grand jury, throwing the fate of the House District 46 lawmaker into even further question.
The grand jury handed Dukes her indictment yesterday (Tuesday), but the District Attorney’s office could not make any statement until Dukes posted bond with the 450th District Court under Judge Brad Urrutia, which took place this morning.
D.A. Margaret Moore confirmed Wednesday that Dukes now faces three indictments containing a total of 15 charges. First, an indictment containing 13 counts of tampering with a governmental record. That is a state felony, each punishable by two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. The other two indictments contain one charge each of abuse of official capacity: one alleging that Dukes used state funds to pay an employee to transport her daughter during work hours, and the second alleging that the state rep. converted campaign funds to personal use. Each carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The investigation was triggered by allegations made by her former chief of staff Michael French last February that Dukes was forcing her legislative staff to work on the African American Community Heritage Festival rather than on district business. That triggered an investigation by the State Auditor’s Office, which then transferred over to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Rangers. The investigation then gained speed after further allegations relating to Dukes’s use of a staffer to effectively work as a nanny. Following the indictment, Moore said that “I do commend the Texas Rangers. Their investigation was very thorough and professional.”
In a statement posted to Facebook, Dukes said she was “disappointed” by the indictments, and that under the advice of her attorneys she will not comment publicly on the allegations. She added: “All I can say today is that I will be entering a plea of Not Guilty.”
The indictment further complicates an already murky electoral situation. Even though she stood for and won re-election in November, Dukes had pledged last summer to resign on Jan. 10, the first day of the legislative session. She originally cited health reasons resulting from a 2013 car wreck, but earlier this month claimed she had been given the all-clear by her doctors, and announced she’d stay in office.
However, with the possibility of indictments looming, there were already calls for her to step down. Last week, two declared candidates – former Workers Defense Project board president Chito Vela and former Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole – both confirmed that they will run against Dukes –either in the 2018 primary or a special election if one is called.
UPDATE: Contacted for comment, Vela said, "I renew my call for Representative Dukes to resign her position."
Vela, a criminal defense attorney himself, noted that Dukes’ guilt or innocence stands as a separate issue, and instead focused on the charges serving as just one extra distraction that her constituents do not need. "Given everything that's happened; given the fact that she missed virtually all of last session; given the fact that she had pledged to resign and then decided not to; given her ongoing health problems; and now with pending criminal charges on top of that; I just don't see how she can be a capable and strong advocate of the people of House District 46," he said.
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