DA requests budget increase to battle public corruption

Interim Jefferson County DA Cory Crenshaw speaks at a recent Rotary meeting.

Interim Jefferson County District Attorney Cory Crenshaw, continuing to create change and call for action against public corruption and other crime across the county, addressed two separate groups over the course of two days to outline both the necessity of additional requested resources in his office, and on July 23, announcing upcoming BISD indictments.

July 22 at the Jefferson County Commissioners Court, Crenshaw led a budget hearing, a step toward his office garnering the funds he says are needed to effectively pursue justice against the criminal element in the area under his charge, focusing on the Beaumont Independent School District as a primary target. July 23, Crenshaw again presented a breakdown of his budgetary request to the Rotary Club in Beaumont.

The majority of the $840,000-plus in additional funding requested by the district attorney for his office – 70 percent – would be utilized to beef up the Task Force assigned to investigate reported misdeeds at BISD and to pull back the curtain exposing any and all illicit activity potentially being concealed by the troubled school district, among other instances of public corruption, said Crenshaw.

Crenshaw asserted that additional budget allocations were necessary for the district attorney’s office due to a high crime rate across the county, comparatively fewer prosecutors on staff compared with specified counties, a backlog of cases in his office and the BISD probe.

“I know anytime we sit down and spend taxpayer dollars, we certainly want to be sure we are making a sound fiscal decision that is in the best interest of this community,” Crenshaw told attendees.

Crenshaw then proceeded to outline proposed budget expenditures based on the approximate 15 percent requested increase in the office’s budget. He presented information regarding crime statistics showing Jefferson County from 1999 through 2008, the most recent numbers available he said.

“In Jefferson County, we have one crime every 36 minutes, 40 crimes per day, 14,600 crimes per year, and my office currently has pending 10,000 criminal cases,” said Crenshaw. “We’re talking about 140,000 crimes (from 1999-2008) — lots of violence. Unfortunately, Jefferson County has the 13th highest crime rate in the state of Texas with the 20th largest population.”

Crenshaw compared Jefferson County to other Texas counties “of similar demographics and numbers,” including Galveston and Lubbock counties. Crenshaw pointed out both counties employ a higher number of prosecutors than Jefferson County in spite of Galveston County’s much lower crime rate, reporting only 105,000 crimes during the same 10-year period that Jefferson County reported 142,000. Jefferson County has only 27 assistant district attorneys in comparison with Lubbock County’s 34 and Galveston County’s 40. He said Jefferson County needs more assistant district attorneys.

“I am not here to say that there is a direct correlation that Galveston County has the highest number (of prosecutors) and the lowest number of crimes occurring in the stats I gave you, but there is certainly an argument that can be made that the more resources you have in the courtroom, the better the conviction rates you have. That certainly does make for safer streets and a safer community.”

Crenshaw went on to address issues related to the public corruption Task Force. He said he has already had to pull resources from the DA’s office, including two prosecutors and two investigators he said have been taken away from their regular duties like battling the office’s backlog.

“Right now, our immediate needs for the upcoming fiscal year would be to add at least another full-time attorney that can be dedicated to the Task Force,” Crenshaw asserted. “Also, we need additional assistance from our support staff as I can assure these Task Force cases, those that involve public corruption and financial crimes, are extremely paper-intensive.”

Crenshaw said he has plans for BISD’s new board of managers.

“One of the things I intend to do with the new board of managers is ask the board of managers to go back and audit the bond money from 2007, $388 million, and track every dime. Where did that money go? Find out where the fraud occurred.”

He said that is where a forensic accountant would be helpful, which is why funds for the new position were requested. According to Crenshaw, once the Board of Managers collects the information, it would be up to the forensic accountant to comb through it to find instances of fraud so prosecutors could prepare cases against the perpetrators.

“Our forensic accountant, who will be on our staff, could sit down, get that information into usable formats for our investigators, so we can sit down and present those kinds of cases, begin a criminal investigation, and hopefully hold those accountable who have stolen money from our children’s future.”

Besides Task Force considerations, Crenshaw pointed out Jefferson County’s “unacceptably high rate of DWI cases” and fatalities, and said his office is taking steps to address the issue while also garnering more revenue for the county. He cited Travis County’s “No Refusal” initiative that he believes could benefit Jefferson County. During no refusal weekends and holidays, police in Travis County and other counties where the program is utilized can collect blood samples from persons suspected of DWI regardless of the subject’s refusal. In addition to that and other programs his office is initiating, Crenshaw said they’ve also raised the fine for first-time DWIs from $500 to $1,000 in Jefferson County.

Crenshaw said revenue generated from higher DWI fines could help offset additional expenses that could be created by his request for a budget increase,the first increase since 1985.

Crenshaw said he is thankful for the community support he has received as Jefferson County’s district attorney and he wants to encourage transparency in his office, which is why he met with Rotarians on July 23. During the meeting, Crenshaw announced that he anticipates the first indictments regarding BISD could be returned as early as next week, right on schedule, according to a statement the DA made in March. At that time, he announced the formation of the anti-corruption Task Force saying he was optimistic indictments would begin in four to six months.