GATEVILLE, Texas (AP) — The staff of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quietly dropped a series of human trafficking and child sexual assault cases this month after losing track of one of his victims. a prominent law firm.
Republicans have risen to national prominence in recent years by revitalizing the right by plunging into controversial legal battles that have affected people well beyond Texas. He has fought access to abortion, Democratic immigration policies, and the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
But as Paxton fends off legal troubles and tries to win a third term as Texas’ chief law enforcement officer, Paxton’s agency is reeling from behind-the-scenes turmoil. he objects.
An Associated Press investigation suggests Paxton and his deputies will try to push a broader political agenda, including turning cases into political gain and staff screenings of exposed films that call into question the 2020 election. To make matters worse, Paxton’s supporters tried to make their case by showing him child pornography at a conference less than two months into his work as an adviser to the agency. It was later that he was secretly fired.
AP’s account is based on hundreds of pages of records and interviews with more than 20 current and former employees. Many spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation or because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
In the small town of Gatesville, the effects were felt this month as an incident called “Operation Fallen Angel” collapsed. Six of her, who were charged last year with alleged involvement in a plot to force teenage girls to “exchange sexual contact with Crystal’s methamphetamine,” have now been released. One is in custody in a central Texas community on separate charges. One in eight of her died in prison.
“It’s completely broken. I was wrong to believe that.”
Paxton and his staff did not respond to voicemail, text message and email questions sent on Tuesday.
Over the years, Paxton, like few other elected officials in the United States, weathered storms of trouble. serious securities fraud fee and federal investigation to accusations of corruption . He has widely denied wrongdoing and remains popular with Republican voters despite losing staff.
One prosecutor said he resigned in January after his supervisor pressured him to withhold evidence in the murder case. By August, records show the division of the trafficking case. 50 immigrants died Behind the June trailer—the job opening rate was 40%.
“When the office is going through a climactic upheaval that affects agency-client relationships and trust, it’s only natural that there will be a lot of stress among staff,” said Ron del Vento, who served as divisional head under Paxton. There will be a lot of movement in the Four former Texas Attorneys General before retiring in 2019.
“Collateral damage is inevitable,” he said.
The latest resignation comes in the aftermath of a bizarre uprising that took place in the fall of 2020, in which eight of Paxton’s top delegates accused him of using Paxton’s office to help the Attorney General. political donor Paxton hired a woman who admitted to having an affair Adultery. After going to the FBI, the lawmakers were all either resigned or fired and an investigation was launched. Ongoing.
In America’s largest red state, Republican voters couldn’t let the accusations put them on pause for Paxton, who has again endorsed Donald Trump’s endorsement. Earned his party’s nomination. Paxton will face Democratic challenger and first-time candidate Rochelle Garza in the November election.
Collin County Republican Party Speaker Abraham George said, “He is one of the greatest attorneys general in Texas and one of the most conservative in the nation,” and Paxton has the same presumption of innocence as anyone else. added that it deserves other Americans.
After the dramatic departure of Paxton’s top staff in 2020, a California attorney who donated $10,000 to help Paxton fight him took a senior position. 2015 securities fraud prosecution Former ice cream company owner Tom Kelly Gleason father donated $50,000 To the attorney general’s defense fund.
Gleeson was fired less than two months into his new job as a law enforcement consultant. Paxton’s office didn’t say why, but three people familiar with the matter say Gleason included child pornography in a job presentation at the agency’s Austin headquarters.
Mr Gleeson showed the videos, one of which he said showed a man raping a small child, according to people familiar with the matter. It was met with fury and the meeting was quickly dissolved.
Afterwards, Paxton’s vice president, Brent Webster, told staff not to talk about what happened, according to one of the people involved.
Gleeson, who began his career as a police officer in the late 1970s, did not respond to voicemails, text messages, e-mails, or letters left at the home or business. A lawyer representing him also did not respond to an e-mail requesting comment.
As of August, the number of Criminal Prosecution Assistant Attorneys General (attorneys in charge of day-to-day cases and litigation work) is down more than 25% from two years ago, according to salary data. According to data obtained under the Public Records Act, the groups dealing with financial and white-collar cases were cut by more than half and consolidated into separate departments.
“For the people of Texas, this is terrifying to me,” said Linda Eads, who served as deputy attorney general in the early 2000s.
Boyd said staff turnover in Paxton’s trafficking division contributed to the collapse of the Gatesville case. , Boyd wondered if it was used properly.
On September 13, the Attorney General’s staff wrote in court documents that it had dismissed three trafficking cases because witnesses recanted, and four others because “the victims could not be identified.”
“For Pete’s sake, you’re in the AG office. Can’t find the victim?” said Boyd. “Culture Broken”
Bill Turner, who was in office under Paxton for five years, said he resigned in January after senior leaders tried to prevent him from giving evidence to the defense in a murder prosecution. He declined to discuss the details, saying they could affect ongoing work related to the incident.
“We had disagreements about the ethical obligations of prosecutors and felt we couldn’t continue to work in that environment,” said Turner, a former Texas elected Democratic district attorney. I got
Two months later, Assistant Attorney General Jason Scully Clemons left the same department, blaming the new wave of executives for “directing prosecutors to prioritize political considerations” in his resignation letter. He also said the environment had become hostile to his LGBTQ employees. Around that time, Paxton issued a legal opinion, which began to move. child abuse investigation To parents of transgender youth in Texas.
Several other employees told the AP that prior to Texas’ March primary election, criminal justice attorney Amber Platt called a meeting to help paxton’s re-election prospects. Scully-Clemons, who declined to comment, mentioned the meeting in the letter.
In May, the head of Paxton’s election integrity department invited his team to a movie theater to “2000 Mules” A debunked movie that falsely claims to prove the 2020 election was stolen.
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan White said in an email, “General Paxton and others are expected to attend, and I’m sure they want to make a good appearance from our office.
As senior attorneys leave the Attorney General’s office, newcomers who stick with Paxton see their careers and pay skyrocket.
Aaron Reitz, who graduated from law school in 2017, was hired in October 2020 as an aide to Paxton’s Chief of Staff on a $135,000 salary. The following month, Reitz was promoted to oversee the agency’s legal affairs after the lieutenant reported Paxton to his FBI and quit. He is a strategic, senior position that earns $205,000.
In June, Reitz’s assistant sent out invitations to a “2000 Mule Viewing Party,” which included a barbecue. Over 90 staff and interns were then told to bring their own lunch.
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner of New York and writers Paul J. Weber of Austin and Jamie Stengle of Dallas contributed to this report.