County audits bring finger-pointing to Precinct 3; Bullard police officer admits having sex with minor
Things are steaming up in Cherokee County, folks, but talk about ‘the pot calling the kettle black.’ The embedded corrupt aspect is targeting recently elected officials who shake the tree and expose the ingrained favoritism. Longtime Cherokee County elected officials and generational county employees have funneled the equivalent of millions of taxpayers’ dollars to themselves and their ilk over the last several decades. County equipment has been used to bulldoze, pave and enhance the private properties of in-laws for the last 30 years. The installation of culverts, cattle crossing guards, wooden bridges and roadbed are routine for Cherokee County’s so-called elite on their rural properties. In order to distract from the ingrained corruption, Cherokee County is attempting again what they do best, that is to blame someone else for exactly what they themselves blatantly do. Their target this month is the only forthright County Commissioner in their ranks.
They hope to pass the stench over to agencies within the county who do not buckle under the pressure of the corrupt Rusk, TX courthouse. Local reporters enable false charges by deliberately not fact-checking the accusations made against the whistleblowers. And the Cherokeean Herald is Johnny-on-the-spot eager to publish the crap fed them by current occupants of the Rusk courthouse. According to the Daily Progress, Precinct 3 Commissioner Katherine Pinotti is being investigated by law enforcement for maintaining a misidentified county road. Instead of keeping his nose in his own jurisdiction, longtime Precinct 4 Commissioner Byron Underwood has tattled on his political opponents’ maintenance of a segment of County Road 3403 (now called Patterson Lane), 5 miles north of Jacksonville in the Mount Selman area. (Source: Jacksonville Daily Progress August 26, 2010)
The county road in dispute, Patterson Lane, is currently maintained by Precinct 3 because it is a thoroughfare from CR 3401 (Old Jacksonville Rd.) to CR 3404, just West of HWY 69. According to the Daily Progress article, Commissioner Pinotti performed her due diligence in requesting county maps be updated to reflect the delineation of missing roads and her constituents’ requests to maintain Patterson Lane. Especially after the heavy rains her boss County Judge Chris Davis claims to have championed just months earlier. The fact is Patterson Lane is not a private road. The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department that is spearheading the “investigation” and County Attorney hope the rest of the county thinks otherwise. It all depends on who you are related to as to whether or not you can get away with using county equipment on private property. Precinct 3 has been open and has kept records about its maintenance of Patterson Lane. How dare this woman publish how and where the precinct maintenance money is spent!
The good ol’ boys are playing gotcha politics with the only female Commissioner in Cherokee County, Texas. Their tactics are as old as the corruption they perpetuate: criminalize perfectly legal actions and prosecute those outside of their circle for the shenanigans that they themselves commit every single day. Once again their goal is to make a law-abider spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight a trumped up charge. Their modus operandi is always the same; they use the Sheriff’s Department and courthouse to ruin the reputations and the lives of political opponents. The County Bosses hold the purse strings and they aren’t letting go until Cherokee County taxpayers wise up, shed their inertia and vote them all out.
Commissioner Pinotti is not under attack for merely ingratiating herself by extending county services to the residents on Patterson Lane; she is accused of the crime of “misusing county funds” that her entrenched political peers have been committing for decades. They say she improperly used county equipment, labor and time to maintain a road not under the aegis of her Precinct. Of course it is not a crime for a county commissioner to maintain a lateral road on which dozens of homesteads are located.
Those on the attack want Precinct 3 residents to believe as a commissioner, Pinotti has no discretion as to where she sends her crews. Does she have to, according to County Attorney Craig Caldwell, ask for the male members of the Commissioner’s Court to grant her permission to fix a street name sign? Has Caldwell ever held the other commissioners to that standard during his tenure? Of course not. Patterson Lane is not a private driveway; it is a school bus route used to pick up the children living up and down the road. In the County Attorney’s mind the contiguous tracts of land are still conveniently “undeveloped” but part of a “subdivision,” nonetheless. (Source: “Commissioner paves Patterson Lane” Cherokeean Herald August 25, 2010) So where’s the crime?
Let’s look at those private catfish ponds dug by county employees on the clock and with county equipment. Let’s look at community service workers maintaining private driveways, such as the ones all over Precinct 2 and Precinct 4.
How dare a woman challenge the good ol’ boy network!
Unfortunately for the Pinotti family, every single private phone conversation they’ve ever had in that county has been intercepted by law enforcement and their mail rifled through by post office employees since she began upsetting the political hiarchy. Those in high places must not like what she has to say about them in private phone calls and certainly don’t like her candidness with the voters. It is their plan to have Commissioner Pinotti buckle under the financial strain of hiring an attorney to chase rabbit trails and coerce her to admit to “some type of mapping error.” In order for the Commissioner’s Court to go back to the way it was in the good ol’ pre-Women’s Lib days of meeting behind closed doors with no citizen or fiscal oversight.
It’s like the foxes guarding the chicken coop!
A few weeks prior to this façade, the Jacksonville Daily Progress reported Justice of the Peace clerk Heidi Jones Tyler was accused of stealing cash money straight out of the Precinct 3 office. She was placed on administrative leave after preliminary county audits of Pct. 3 funds fell short by $30,000. (Source: “Up to $30,000 missing” Cherokeean Herald August 18, 2010)
Justice of the Peace James Morris was alerted when a resident asked for a cash receipt for a previously paid fine. The fine had been falsely entered as “dismissed.” Sources close to the investigation report an arrest in the case is imminent. (Source: CBS 19TV August 13, 2010) J.P. Morris has also been outspoken about the corruption he has witnessed at the Commissioner’s Court meetings and has written letters to the Texas Attorney General’s office. After bowing to pressure from new county commissioners, Cherokee County’s local and 3rd party auditors are revealing the depth and breadth of missing funds in particular agencies.
Perhaps “missing funds” are made up for by the county’s unethical revenue-generating tactic of withholding proceeds payable to owners of real and mineral properties. Cherokee County deposits unlawfully nondispersed funds into interest-bearing accounts with associated cumulative fees generating for the county treasurer’s and county clerk’s offices to ‘administer.’ The county certainly knows how to utilize its databases when it demands bloated taxes from its citizens. But those good ol’ boys and gals in the Rusk, TX courthouse just can’t seem to come up with a serviceable mailing address when the county has its mitts on funds due to those on their Muck With List.
The Cherokeean Herald cites another $18,881 stolen in 2009 from the Adult Probation Office that taxpayers will have to reimburse. Cherokee County Adult Probation Director Carl Phillips was charged in December 2009 with embezzling over $60,000 in illicit credit card purchases during an alleged 10-year spending spree. County Auditor L.H. Crockett tells the Herald readers:
I understand that when Tommy Kerzee [incoming probation director] replaced Mr. Phillips, he was told what was going on. It seems some probation department staff members knew about the credit card charges. Mr. Kerzee called the state and they sent (state) auditors to go through the old records,”
County Investigator Lt. John Raffield said that Mr. Kerzee came to him, District Attorney Elmer Beckworth and DA Investigator Randy Hatch.
The article continues:
Mr. Raffield said at least two persons in the probation department knew that Mr. Phillips was allegedly using the credit card for his own personal use. (Source: Cherokeean Herald December 23, 2009)
Despite the evidence and county employee witnesses, initial charges against Phillips were dismissed on July 29, 2010. In order to drag the case out indefinitely and shunt from public spectacle, the case was re-entered on the Cherokee County docket. It’s good to have friends in high places who you can collect dirt on to stave off a costly defense. Does it normally take a decade of witnesses coming forward and a handful of district attorney investigators for Elmer Beckworth to prosecute one of his favorite jury panelists?
Criminal Docket; Case 17638; THEFT OF PROPERTY BY PUBLIC SERVANT GREATER THAN $20K LESS THAN $100K
THE STATE OF TEXAS vs CARL PHILLIPS
Filed 11/23/2009 – Disposition: 07/29/2010 Dismissed-insufficient evidence; 2nd District Court, Cherokee County, TX.
Criminal Docket; Case 17845; THEFT OF PROPERTY BY PUBLIC SERVANT GREATER THAN $20K LESS THAN $100K
THE STATE OF TEXAS vs CARL PHILLIPS
Filed 07/26/2010 – Disposition: current; 2nd District Court, Cherokee County, TX.
Cherokee County resident and resource officer for the Bullard ISD, Steven Wayne Morris, age 26 has been with the Bullard Police Department for two years. Officer Morris was suspended without pay in June 2010 during an investigation involving an undisclosed student at the Bullard High School. The patrolman initially lied to his superiors about having a relationship with a student and was terminated. During questioning by the Texas Rangers, Morris admitted to having repeated sexual encounters with a 15-year-old Bullard student in the back of her car. Officer Morris has been charged with sexual assault of a child and is incarcerated in Smith County jail on a $350,000 bond. (Source: “Bullard police officer charged with sexual assault of child” KLTV, August 20, 2010)