Wednesday, August 18, 2010

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Former Jim Wells County District Attorney Indicted; Charged With First-Degree Felony

ALICE A Jim Wells County grand jury today indicted the former 79th District Attorney for first-degree felony misapplication of fiduciary property. According to the indictment, Joe Frank Garza, 63, misused over $200,000 in asset forfeiture funds between January 2002 and December 2008.

Court documents filed by the State indicate that Garza illegally used the asset forfeiture dollars for his personal financial benefit. The indictment alleges that Garza paid himself and employees of the district attorney’s office hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of seven years.

Media links

Joe Frank Garza
Jim Wells County grand jury indictment against Joe Frank Garza

According to the indictment, Garza illegally allocated funds from the district attorney’s asset forfeiture accounts for his personal financial benefit. Because district attorneys have control over their asset forfeiture funds, Texas law prohibits them from using those funds to supplement their own salaries from a county, unless the county commissioners court approves the expenditure. However, Garza is charged with failing to comply with the law and instead improperly using the asset forfeiture funds under his control for his personal financial benefit.

Similarly, district attorneys are also required to obtain the commissioners’ approval before supplementing the salaries of county-paid employees with asset forfeiture funds. Between 2002 and 2008, Garza improperly spent more than $200,000 for his personal gain and that of his employees, according to the indictment.

Under Texas law, tangible, personal or real property that is used during the commission of a crime can be subject to forfeiture to the State. Local authorities can either retain and use forfeited assets such as vehicles or equipment or they can sell them and deposit the cash proceeds in their asset forfeiture account. However, asset forfeiture funds can only be used for official purposes of a law enforcement agency or district attorney’s office and cannot be converted for personal use.

The Office of the Attorney General is prosecuting the case as district attorney pro tem at the request of current 79th District Attorney Armando Barrera.