The Ritchie Scandal – There’s an Audit
Another Tarrant County official is under fire from county auditors for alleged violations of state law. But unlike Democrat Constable Ruben Garcia’s recent scandal, it appears the local District Attorney’s office is taking action to prosecute either a judge, his staffer, or both.
Last week we unveiled Garcia’s scandal, which involved several possible violations of state law, including failure to document drugs and other property seized, along with cash collected by field deputies. Shockingly, Ritchie’s audit revealed alleged offenses similar to the Garcia scandal. while the laundry list of offenses documented in Garcia’s audit was lengthy, Ritchie’s is even longer.
Both of these cases raise serious questions about what other local scandals have gone unreported or unaddressed.
Republican Justice of the Peace Gary Ritchie’s office was audited both in 2015 and 2016. The audit found no controls over cash, other deposits, and mileage reimbursements that remain unaccounted for. There were also cash shortages.
The original audit in question was in May of 2015. The problems found in that audit produced an unannounced follow up cash audit on September 23, 2016. Ritchie denied the auditor access to the safe, even though that is in direct violation of state law. The auditors returned on September 29th where, once again, Ritchie’s office denied them access.
The District Attorney’s Office, headed by Sharen Wilson, stepped in and notified Ritchie that he must give them access upon request. Finally, on October 7, 2016 the auditors gained access to the safe. There, they confirmed that $19,000 was unaccounted for. Our sources tell us that number has since grown significantly.
Ms. Tidwell*, the county auditor, confirmed with Direct Action Texas that they “always had issues in JP6, going back to late 90’s, early 2000’s.” Ritchie allegedly blames this all on his Court Manager and close confidant, Shelly Ables. Interestingly, Ables has been Ritchie’s campaign treasurer for years. She is rumored to even have keys to his house for personal errands.
Ritchie’s claim that Ables is responsible appears to be in direct contradiction to the facts.
Ritchie signed all of the documents we have reviewed. He also provided an affidavit to the auditors office which says: “I, Gary Ritchie, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 6 of Tarrant County, Texas do solemnly affirm that I have faithfully reviewed the bank reconciliation and monthly reports.”
However, when asked by Tidwell’s office in writing if the JP signs off or reviews the bank reconciliation Ables replied, “Nope”. Ritchie’s office later walked back that statement.
According to our sources, a hand-writing expert was brought in to evaluate whether or not Ritchie was signing these himself or if Ables was forging his signature. DAT is not yet aware of the investigation’s findings.
We have confirmed that an active investigation is ongoing into this matter. Two of our sources indicate an indictment is coming soon. It is unclear at this time whether Ms. Ables, Judge Ritchie, or both will be the subjects of the indictment(s). Based upon our review of the evidence and our understanding of the government code, we simply cannot see how Ritchie will avoid prosecution. If the DA’s office fails to act, the voters may have the final say. Ritchie is up for re-election in this upcoming primary season in the spring of 2018.
Garcia’s story raised many questions, including whether or not the DA’s office would prosecute the alleged offenses. Ritchie’s audit reinforces those concerns.
Who is guarding the hen house?
The Tarrant County Auditor, Ms. Tidwell, is doing a great service for taxpayers, and should be commended for her work. But it will all be in vain if there are no consequences from local law enforcement. Part of those consequences must include improved safeguards to avoid future offenses. Tarrant County taxpayers deserve better.
Read Full Original Audit HERE.
*while we quote Ms. Tidwell in the article, she only commented on facts in the publicly available documents. Ms. Tidwell was not one of our sources for this story.