Posts by Aaron Harris

In Kaufman – It Pays To Be A Crony

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Property taxes are the largest and most onerous taxes Texans pay. But in Kaufman County, it pays to be well-connected.

Donald Trump’s election victory has been broadly viewed as retaliation by hard-working Americans to frustration with today’s political establishment and its close companion—cronyism. The politically connected receive special treatment, while the average taxpayer foots the bill for both the taxes and special interest handouts.

While we often consider cronyism to be relegated to the federal level in Washington D.C., it’s not. Cronyism is alive and well in Texas, particularly at the local level. Kaufman County provides an egregious example with inequities found in the state property tax system.

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Gary Ritchie’s Court Administrator Indicted on 7 Counts

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We first broke the story about an investigation into JP District 6, Gary Ritchie’s court, back in July. An audit of his court revealed missing cash and a slew of bad to non-existent managerial oversight of the operation of the court, a function for which Texas statute holds Judge Ritchie accountable.

On September 1st we reported that Ritchie appeared before the grand jury in Tarrant County. That jury indicted Ritchie’s court administrator Shelly Ables on 7 counts. They include: unlawfully acquiring property valued between $20,000 and $100,000, mishandling property for which she was a fiduciary, and multiple counts of making a false entry on a governmental record with intent to defraud. Read the full indictment HERE.

Mrs. Ables was let go and quit on the same day last fall. She was Judge Ritchie’s court administrator for 23 years. She served as his campaign treasurer for most of that time as well, only having been removed as campaign treasurer this year. Their relationship has been described as a close personal friends, not just employer and employee.

The audit (READ IT HERE) and Shelly’s indictment raise more questions than they answer. Under Texas statute, Judge Ritchie is liable for all activities in his court. It is clear in the audit and other documents our office reviewed, that Judge Ritchie signed off on all the bank statements and deposits. What is unknown is whether the DA’s office is also considering any charges against Judge Ritchie. What will Ables reveal in her testimony?

Time will tell on all these questions. Meanwhile I’m sure his primary challengers will be asking these same questions very publicly. Which leaves us with: Will Ritchie run?

UPDATE – Pictures – Grand Jury Hearing in the Gary Ritchie Case

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This morning Justice of the Peace Gary Ritchie appeared before a grand jury in a hearing regarding his court!

In July, DAT broke a story about JP Gary Ritchie and his court having an abysmal audit that documented multiple violations. Just one of those violations was the discovery that at least $19,000 in cash was missing. At least $16,000 of that cash was later found in a box at his court administrator’s home.

Today, Judge Ritchie appeared before a grand jury at the Tim Curry Justice Center. It remains to be seen whether the grand jury is hearing a case against Judge Ritchie or his court administrator Shelley Ables. In previous statements it appeared Judge Ritchie was ready to cast all the blame on his court administrator. That is a challenging position for Judge Ritchie to take. All the deposits and reconciliations DAT reviewed were signed by Ritchie himself. Regardless, state law holds the Judge liable for all activities in his court. Being a poor manager is not a defense of prosecution.

Whether the grand jury is hearing a case against Judge Ritchie or his court administrator is yet to be seen, but as we head into the March Primaries, this does not bode well for Judge Ritchie.

Interestingly enough, Judge Ritchie won’t be the only Judge in Tarrant County going into the primaries with ethical challenges. More on that soon…

New Active Voter Fraud Investigation – Nueces County

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The Office of the Attorney General of Texas announced a third investigation in Nueces County. The Nueces County Clerk, Kara Sands, filed a complaint with the AG’s office regarding various election irregularities in the local municipal elections. Interestingly enough, similar to Tarrant County, the election which triggered the complaints was a water board election. That complaint has now resulted in three active criminal investigations.

I was honored to work alongside Nueces County Clerk Kara Sands during both the regular and special sessions on election reform bills. Kara was a pivotal stakeholder in getting SB5 and other bills through the Texas House and ultimately to be signed by the governor. She was instrumental in getting county clerks and election administrators on board for various aspects of the reforms, including the controversial repeal of the nursing home bill. She has seen first hand the results of these policies on the ground and knows how we need to secure our elections.

A news report of the most recent investigation in Nueces County can be seen HERE.

The OAG’s active investigations in Nueces County include both in person fraud as well as mail in ballot fraud.

With the passage of SB5, the addition of organized election fraud to the State RICO statute and other reforms passed this session, we are hopeful that over the next few years we can finally put an end to these types of activities.

House Ballot Fraud Bill – HB184 vs. HB47

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The special session is nearing an end and the Governor’s call for increased penalties for mail in voter fraud has stalled in the House in the form of HB 184.

There is a lot of discussion, driven largely by our office, as to the differences between HB184 by Goldman and HB47 by Schofield. We are fighting FOR HB184;, let me tell you why.

First, let me back up and discuss something that happened during regular session. The TX Legislature passed a bill we now refer to as the “nursing home” bill. This  flew under the radar and was added at the last minute as an amendment. This bill opens up every nursing home in Texas to ballot harvesting. It creates an unfunded mandate on every county, and many, many other problematic details. The Democrat party has been bragging about getting this bill passed. One party official even bragged that the Dem party has already calculated this bill will get them nearly 300,000 additional harvested ballots. They did the math;, they wrote the bill;, they got it passed. THIS IS A VERY BIG PROBLEM. This week over 100 county election administrators signed a letter opposing this legislation.

The main difference between HB184 and HB47, both as amended, is that HB184 FULLY REPEALS the nursing home bill. Let me be clear – the “nursing home” bill is flawed at every level, it cannot be “fixed”, but  must be repealed. HB47 naively attempts to patch the “nursing home” bill. This is like trying to fix Obamacare. Repeal and Replace is the only viable choice. This difference alone is worth the fight.

Aside from that, HB184 differentiates itself from HB47 in several ways., I’ll list some of them here:

HB184 prohibits electronic signatures on applications and carrier envelopes. HB47 does not.

HB184 requires original copy of applications, no more faxed or emailed mail in applications. HB47 does not.

HB184 adds preservation of ballot materials including canceled ballots and a mandatory reporting to the AG’s office. This is vital to track and document fraud for the long term elimination of it. HB47 does not.

HB184 includes voter impersonation penalties for using a mail in ballot., HB47 does not.

HB184 clarifies that the two signatures on the application and carrier envelope must both be that of the voter, not just match. HB47 does not.

HB184 adds liability to ballot board members who accept invalid signatures. HB47 does not.

HB184 adds new wording to Sec 276.013 of the election code which defines voter fraud more clearly and gives law enforcement the tools they need to go after violators

HB184 simply covers more detail and stitches up the existing problems in a more solid manner. This is largely due to the fact that HB184 was written by a team: from the AG’s office, to Rep. Goldman’s office, Governor’s office, Sen. Hancock’s office and others. HB47 has 9 sponsors, while HB184 has 81 Authors and Co-Authors. 81!

HB184 is the better bill. The clock is running out.

 

 

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