Morales' Morality Tale
In the confounding conclusion to one of the most contradictory political careers in state history, former Attorney General Dan Morales was sentenced on Halloween afternoon to four years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, for the crimes of tax evasion and mail fraud. Sparks ordered Morales to begin serving his sentence immediately, saying, "You've breached the very valuable trust the people of Texas gave you. If nothing else, it justifies that I remand you to the custody of the U.S. marshal at this time." Morales told the court of his "sincere regret and remorse," but insisted that "the vast majority" of the "misdeeds" he's been accused of are untrue. Morales was charged with 12 felony counts carrying a possible sentence of more than 80 years, and pled guilty to two counts: filing a fraudulent 1998 tax return and attempting to enrich himself and his friend Marc Murr by claiming several hundred million in unearned attorney fees from the state's successful $17 billion lawsuit against the tobacco companies -- the case that might have remained the greatest triumph of Morales' political career.
Morales acknowledged he had "indeed been greatly blessed with the opportunity to serve the public and accomplish much on their behalf," then added, "It is my intention and hope to have that opportunity again." That apparent disconnection from reality perhaps had something to do with the judge's order that Morales undergo mental health counseling during his incarceration and for three years afterward as a condition of his probation. Morales will also have to pay $190,000 in fines and court costs, and another $146,000 in back taxes. Morales has claimed destitution and the potential source of those funds is unknown.
Announcing the sentencing, U.S. attorney Johnny Sutton issued his own melodramatic narrative of Morales' crimes, describing the "river of money" flowing from the tobacco litigation and the unsuccessful attempts by Morales and Murr to cut themselves in on the pending settlement via the five private lawyers who actually prepared the state's case. (Murr pled guilty to mail fraud and agreed to six months in prison and a $250,000 fine, pending Sparks' approval.) The two men finally produced their own "bogus state contracts" in an attempt to document Murr's supposed work on the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Morales was converting $400,000 in campaign funds to his personal use and claiming only $40,000 in income.
Sutton called the sentence "a reminder that no one is above the law." And Morales, once the law in Texas, was taken away in handcuffs while his family wept.