Defamation lawsuit filed against CNN, New York Times and lawyers for Seth Rich family

A federal lawsuit filed this morning accuses CNN, The New York Times, and Vox of smearing Texas financial advisor Ed Butowsky with false claims about his role in investigating the murder of Democratic National Employee Seth Rich.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Sherman Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, also accuses lawyers in New York and Chicago of maliciously prosecuting a bogus lawsuit on behalf of Seth Rich’s parents, Joel and Mary Rich.

Full disclosure: I’m one of Ed’s attorneys, and I filed the lawsuit on his behalf. I don’t have a lot of time to blog about the case, but I tried to write the lawsuit in plain English (see Paragraphs 1-7 and 33-84), and you can read it by clicking here.

DPS IS STILL HIDING THE BALL

Sometimes when you request records from the government, you can tell a lot by what they refuse to give you. In the eight days between February 20 and February 28, 2019, the Texas Department of Public Safety denied three of my public information requests.

In the letter dated February 20, 2019, DPS refused to release the retirement letter that deputy inspector general Louis Sanchez sent to the Public Safety Commission, i.e., the commission that oversees DPS. I’m told Mr. Sanchez referenced a complaint against Inspector General Rhonda Fleming, alleging (among other things) that Ms. Fleming discriminated against her ex-girlfriend by blocking the ex-girlfriend’s promotion to captain. As my readers know from previous blog posts, I have a pretty low opinion of the Office of Inspector General (a.k.a. the “Office of Damage Control“) under Ms. Fleming’s leadership.

In the February 27, 2019 letter, DPS refused to release records about illegal immigrants allegedly working in the Capitol Grille inside the Texas Capitol Building. My DPS sources tell me the restaurant reported a theft, and the agent assigned to investigate soon discovered multiple immigrants working without identification. That might not be such a big deal but for the fact that DPS gets millions from the legislature to patrol the Mexican border, and yet it cannot keep illegal immigrants (without ID) from entering a secured building, i.e., the capitol building. I’m told top officials in DPS are trying to keep the incident quiet. [Continued on p. 2].

Lawsuit: Texas senator quashed investigation of state trooper girlfriend

The chairman of the Texas Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee quashed an internal investigation of a female state trooper with whom he had an affair, according to an amended federal lawsuit filed this morning.

The lawsuit alleges that Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) intervened with Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw to terminate the investigation of Trooper Diane Martinez and Captain Rolando Rivas. Whitmire’s committee oversees DPS.

Ironically, Martinez and Rivas were under investigation because another trooper reported the captain for showing favoritism toward Martinez, “with whom [the captain] appeared to be having an inappropriate relationship.” Here’s an excerpt from the lawsuit:

47. In April of 2016, Corporal Katherine Gibson (formerly Creekmore) filed a misconduct complaint against Captain Rolando Rivas because he was showing favoritism toward a subordinate, Trooper Diane Martinez, with whom he appeared to be having an inappropriate relationship. OIG [i.e., the DPS Office of Inspector General] initiated an investigation, and within a matter of weeks Captain Rivas began cleaning out his office. At one point, the captain’s secretary discovered a note in his office that caused her and other co-workers to fear that Captain Rivas might harm himself. A short time later, however, the chairman of the Texas Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee intervened with Defendant McCraw on behalf of Captain Rivas, and the OIG investigation was quashed. As it happens, Trooper Martinez had boasted about having an intimate relationship with the married committee chairman, Senator John Whitmire.

48. After Defendant McCraw quashed the investigation, Captain Rivas was allowed to resume his position in Cpl. Gibson’s chain of command. Predictably, he began retaliating against her with numerous bad-faith accusations and disciplinary write-ups. The stress became so severe that Cpl. Gibson sought and obtained medical leave in May of 2017 due to harassment from her chain-of-command. She filed a second misconduct complaint against Captain Rivas in July of 2018, as well as complaints against Lieutenant Glen Lester and Sgt. Rito Morales, because of the ongoing retaliation scheme. Since that time, Defendant Fleming has deliberately slow-walked the investigation, Lieutenant Glen Lester and Sgt. Rito Morales have been allowed to transfer and Captain Rivas is scheduled to retire on February 28, 2019. This is standard operating procedure for Defendant McCraw and Defendant Fleming. When they can no longer cover up misconduct by a senior officer, the investigation is delayed and the senior officer is allowed to retire quietly… By delaying her findings, Defendant Fleming can close the investigation without sustaining any of the allegations. As a result, the report will not be subject to public release, and DPS will be saved from embarrassing revelations.

In the interest of full disclosure, I filed the amended lawsuit on behalf of my client, Trooper Billy Spears, who was punished in 2015 for allowing himself to be photographed with Snoop Dogg at SXSW (the incident made international news and resulted in continued retaliation against Trooper Spears). Captain Rivas and Trooper Martinez were added to the complaint in order to demonstrate a pattern of corruption, cronyism, and cover-ups at DPS. [Continued on Page 2].

Texas official flashes badge during traffic stop… but he’s not a cop

Body camera video from an August 14, 2018 traffic stop by a Huntsville, Texas police officer shows a senior official from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission flashing a badge and identifying himself as a deputy executive director of the state’s third largest law enforcement agency… even though he is not a law enforcement officer himself.

Dennis Beal is TABC’s deputy executive director of business & revenue operations, but according to records from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, he has never been licensed as a peace officer in Texas.

Dennis Beal, Deputy Executive Director
Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

Shortly after the one-minute mark in the three-minute video, Mr. Beal displays a badge and agency credentials and states that he does not have liability insurance because he is driving a state vehicle. He also explains to the officer that he lives in Huntsville but works in Austin, and he is driving home after a meeting. He was released with a warning.

I emailed TABC spokesman Chris Porter to ask “why TABC issues badges to civilian employees and whether TABC has any policy governing the use of badges and credentials by civilian employees, particularly during traffic stops.” Here is his response:

TABC previously made it a practice to issue gold identification badges to its senior leadership, which includes Commissioners, the Executive Director and Deputy Executive Directors. These badges identify the bearer as an employee of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and are distinct from the badges carried by commissioned peace officers. The badge includes the bearer’s job title as well as the badge number. The badge does not identify civilian employees as commissioned peace officers, nor does it grant any privileges normally afforded to peace officers.

The latter sentence sounds like hair-splitting to me. If I had stopped Mr. Beal back when I was a deputy sheriff, and he flashed his badge and credentials as a deputy executive director of TABC, I would have reasonably assumed that he was a cop. I’m not saying TABC’s policy is unique, because the Houston Police Department once issued badges to spouses of HPD officers (and maybe it still does), but it all seems a little shady to me. [Continued on page 2].

DPS releases report about demoted Texas Ranger

This afternoon the Texas Department of Public Safety released internal records about the demotion of former Texas Ranger Brent Davis of Tyler, and the records don’t paint a pretty picture.

According to an August 11, 2017 affidavit from Mr. Davis, he began having an affair with Faezeh Horaney, widow of murder victim Ron Horaney, after he was assigned to investigate Mr. Horaney’s murder. The affidavit states that the affair came to light only because Mrs. Horaney’s children discovered her explicit text messages with the ranger:

I do not remember when, Faezeh contacted me and said her children had found text messages between the two of us, confronted her and were mad because I was investigating their father’s death. I told Faezeh that if the children said anything that I would get into a lot of trouble. I told her that I did not need to get into any trouble and attempted to stop communications with her.

Faezah told me that she needed my friendship, my support and relied on me to help her with difficult decisions. Faezeh had a disagreement with her mother-in-law and had learned a long-time friend was not truthful with her. Faezeh felt like everyone was trying to get money from her since she received the life insurance payment from her husband’s death.

I did not stop communication with her at that time. She was someone easy to talk to about my problems and she relied on my communication to help her with her situation…

There was one intimate encounter after the children confronted her about the text messages between the two of us…

In other words, even after the kids found out about the affair and objected, Mr. Davis and Mrs. Horaney kept doing their thing. Classy.

[Continued on page 2].

Chief of Texas liquor agency shoots the messenger, denies corruption charges

It’s the holiday season, and joy and peace abound everywhere… if you’re watching the Hallmark Channel.

Early this morning (a Sunday, in case you didn’t notice), the executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sent a nastygram to one of his critics, defending the agency’s top cop against corruption charges.

A. Bentley Nettles, Executive Director
Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

As I reported on Friday, the FBI and Travis County District Attorney’s Office are investigating alleged corruption in the agency, and the TABC itself has already concluded that its chief of enforcement, Victor Kuykendoll, interfered in a criminal investigation to help his friends. Internal investigators also concluded that Chief Kuykendoll lied during the investigation in order to hide his relationship with an organized crime suspect.

In a 6:27 a.m. email, TABC executive director A. Bentley Nettles shrugged off these incidents as nothing more than “managerial misjudgment” by Chief Kuykendoll. Then Mr. Nettles turned his sights on retired TABC lieutenant Darryl Darnell, the man who has spent nearly three years exposing corruption at TABC.

Mr. Nettles alleged that Mr. Darnell had a “bone to pick” with Chief Kuykendoll, and that Mr. Darnell had been fired from TABC and escorted out of the building. In a response sent this afternoon, Mr. Darnell said he retired honorably after 25 years and was never escorted from TABC premises, but instead was the guest of honor at a retirement party hosted by the agency.

If Mr. Darnell is right (and I have no reason to doubt him), it looks like Mr. Nettles has set himself up for a defamation lawsuit. I’ve reprinted the full email exchange below, but a couple of things are worth highlighting:

  • According to Mr. Darnell, the TABC is fighting his open records request for the results of an employee survey, apparently because the results are, in the words of agency lawyers, too “embarrassing.”
  • In his email, Mr. Nettles wrote about refusing to meet with “Sherry and Ed.” He seems to be referring to his predecessor as executive director, Sherry Cook, and Cook’s deputy, Ed Swedberg. Ironically, Mrs. Cook was driven out of the agency in 2017 largely as a result of the corruption that Mr. Darnell exposed that year. In other words, Mr. Nettles arguably owes his job to none other than Darryl Darnell, the man whom he now accuses of having a vendetta against the agency.

In one of his emails to Mr. Nettles, Mr. Darnell suggested that Mr. Nettles had fallen under the malign influence of some lousy TABC employees who should have been purged along with Sherry Cook. Mr. Darnell does not mention any names, but allow me to propose one: Albert Rodriguez, the former commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s police academy who now serves as TABC’s director of training.

[Continued on Page 2]

FBI investigating Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, chief liquor cop was promoted while under internal investigation

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s chief cop, Victor Kuykendoll, was promoted to the position while he was still under investigation for assaulting another agent, and even after the agency concluded that Kuykendoll had interfered with an ongoing criminal investigation of two of his friends. Meanwhile, the FBI and Travis County District Attorney’s Office are investigating Kuykendoll and other TABC officials (more on that below).

Victor Kyukendoll
Chief of Enforcement
TABC

According to a heavily-redacted report released in response to an open records request, an unnamed agent alleged that he was groped by Kuykendoll and Sgt. Jeffery Farmer while attending a colleague’s retirement party in Waco. I received the report from Darryl Darnell, a retired lieutenant and regular thorn-in-the-side of the TABC brass (may God bless him), who noted that the “investigation” appeared to be an attempt to exonerate Kuykendoll.

The assault allegation was “not sustained” by the internal TABC investigator, Lt. Peter Heller, but the report contains findings far more damning than an assault. Consider this excerpt:

According to [TABC Special Investigations Unit] Investigative Reports, on September 13, 2017, Agent Marvin Padgett “saved screen shots showing friends” on the Facebook Page of AC [i.e., “Acting Chief”] Kuykendoll, and one of his “Facebook Friends”, Rami Altrach, was a person on a Terrorist Watch list. Based on this information, SIU opened the investigation into the alleged illegal activity of AC Kuykendoll, [Tom] Noble, and [Wayne] Stovall.

SIU discovered AC Kuykendoll began deleting Facebook pictures related to Rami Alatrach on or before October 27th. In stark contrast to “a couple months after” the October 26th party, that AC Kuykendoll asserted.

Kuykendoll, Noble and Stovall were longtime friends who had worked together in the Waco field office, according to a former TABC agent whom I’ll call “Agent X.” Rami Altrach was a Lebanese national who owned a night club and a car lot in Bell County, according to Agent X, and Agent X was fired by TABC in May after he reported the alleged criminal activity (more on that below).

[UPDATE (12/21/2018 10:50 a.m. ET): I received an email (click here) and record excerpt (click here) from Wayne Stovall indicating that TABC found the charges “unsustained” with respect to any connection between him and Altrach. The email is worth reading, and I’ve requested a full copy of the record.

[Continued on Page 2…]

FBI releases transcripts from James Comey investigation, refuses to release other records

Fifteen months after I made a Freedeom of Information Act request to the FBI and Office of Special Counsel, and nine months after I filed suit to get the records that I requested, the FBI has finally produced transcripts from OSC’s investigation of FBI Director James Comey.

You may recall that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley blew a gasket when he found out the FBI required OSC to sign a non-disclosure agreement that purportedly would have prevented OSC from sharing information with Congress about the investigation. [Note: the OSC in question has nothing to do with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but is a standalone agency that was investigating allegations that Mr. Comey violated the Hatch Act when he interfered in the 2016 Presidential election].

Like Senator Grassley, I think it’s outrageous that an executive branch agency would try to “contract” with another such agency to hide records from Congress and the public. On September 30, 2017, I served FOIA requests on the FBI and OSC for the non-disclosure agreement (“NDA”) above, as well as all other NDAs that FBI and OSC had executed with other agencies.

[Continued on Page 2…]

Corruption and cover-ups at the Texas Department of Public Safety

A federal lawsuit filed today in Austin describes a culture of “cronyism and outright corruption” in the Texas Department of Public Safety, alleging that top DPS officials whitewashed a a Texas Ranger’s role in a fatal car accident and quietly demoted another ranger who had been sleeping with a murder victim’s widow while he investigated the murder.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of retired DPS investigator Darren Lubbe of Mt. Pleasant, claims DPS officials covered up criminal misconduct by senior commanders, Texas Rangers, and other favorites, yet fabricated documents in order to frame lower-ranking officers whom they disliked. (Full disclosure: I filed the lawsuit on Darren’s behalf).

The lawsuit also alleges that the chief of the Rangers Division was allowed to retire quietly in 2011 after he wrecked his car while driving drunk and then flashed his badge to the other driver and offered money for her silence. You can read the full lawsuit by clicking here.

For what it’s worth, I don’t particularly enjoy criticizing the Texas Rangers. I was once a deputy sheriff in East Texas, and my academy instructor awed us with stories about the history of the Rangers. I’ve also known some first-class Texas Rangers in my years as a reporter, cop, and lawyer. … Read more

The State Bar of Texas is trying to retaliate (again)

The State Bar of Texas’s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (“OCDC”) apparently wants to send me a message.  For years now, I’ve blogged about cronyism and corruption in the state bar, and I recently blogged about OCDC’s refusal to investigate a lawyer who purported to have been retained by a dead woman.

Last week, I received three more letters from OCDC refusing to investigate attorneys who variously (1) switched sides in a lawsuit, purporting to represent new clients against their former clients in the same case; (2) tampered with official records in an attempt to interfere with an election; and (3) filed lawsuits without the knowledge or permission of their purported clients. On the same day, I received a letter from OCDC indicating that I was under investigation.

Today, I emailed Stephanie Lowe, who was appointed to the newly-created position of ombudsman for the state bar’s disciplinary system:

Ms. Lowe,

Below is a blog post that I wrote recently, and it includes copies of bar grievances that I filed against four attorneys. I’m a member of the SBOT myself, and I’m a long-time critic of cronyism and favoritism in the OCDC.

Read more

Dead people not only can vote in Texas, they can hire lawyers!

At a court hearing on August 29, 2018, I questioned attorney Jay B. Goss of Bryan, Texas about how he was hired by a dead woman. Last week, I received a copy of the transcript, and here’s an excerpt:

[Clevenger]: Have you ever been part of a seance?

[Goss]: Of a what?

[Clevenger]: A seance, where someone is conjured up from the dead to communicate with them?

[Goss]: I don’t think.

[Clevenger]: Well, then, how is it you know what Ms. Hargrave is saying and what she’s pleading, if she’s dead?

[Goss]: Because I pled it for her.

[Clevenger]: So you’re speaking on behalf of the dead?

[Goss]: Well, I’m speaking on behalf of her and Jim, her husband…

Transcript, pp. 18-19.  It gets better.  … Read more