More fun and games at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

Sherry CookLast week I wrote about evidence that Sherry Cook, executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, received unearned training credit from a police academy run by her husband at Alvin Community College.  This afternoon I received an email from ACC President Christal Albrecht confirming that students were supposed to attend the class on campus and in person.

That looks like a problem for Cook, because TABC officials claim they have no records reflecting travel, food, lodging, etc. for the week-long class.  The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement opened an investigation of Cook and her husband Maurice following my post, and I’m told the investigation is sending shockwaves through the agency.

I hope so. If half of the tips that I have received from current and former agents are true, TABC needs to be overhauled from top to bottom. Consider the email below, which I received several days ago. Although I cannot personally vouch for any of its contents, I shared it with two retired TABC agents who told me that they could corroborate some of it and that they believed all of it:

Good Afternoon Mr. Clevenger,
I am a 30 year veteran with the TABC, 52 if you count my dad also working for TABC while I was growing up.  I wish to remain anonymous therefore I will not be using my name or any names of others that I work with, because of fear of backlash from the tyrants in Austin.  I read your article about Sherry Cook, as well as multiple other agents read it, and I decided that there are somethings you might want to know.  There is quite a bit and there is no certain order. 
We’ll start with the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).  SIU was formed to investigate complaints of large scale organized criminal activity, such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, etc.  However ever since its creation SIU has taken valuable resources from the rest of Enforcement Division.  I understand the need for a branch of a division such as SIU, but when they aren’t making the cases that they should be it is very irritating.  Because TABC, especially Assistant Chief Dexter Jones, has been creating more and more positions within SIU, and asking legislature for more funding for SIU, when they could have been using those resources to fill already existing agent positions.  Regular enforcement agents can do the same jobs as SIU agents.  The only real difference between SIU agents and regular agents is the SIU agents can grow facial hair.  Also due to SIU being, for lack of better terms, Dexter’s baby regular enforcement agents are told to reroute any complaints of large scale narcotics or human trafficking to their nearest SIU agents, which for me the nearest SIU agents are seven hours away and anytime we ask for help it never comes.  Also any time another agency asks us for help, since we are supposed to be the go to people for anyone with an alcohol problem, we have to tell them sorry we will forward this to our SIU guys and have them contact you.  Most of the time when we forward information to SIU they never contact the individuals. 
Next I will talk about the ACUP list.  I actually can’t remember what the A stands for the CUP stands for Complaint, Unique, and Priority.  Basically what the ACUP list is a policy within TABC that says enforcement agents are not allowed to go into a location that sells alcohol unless there is a complaint on the location, it is on the unique list, or a priority list.  The unique list is a list of locations that haven’t been inspected in a year.  And the priority list is a list of locations that have open complaints or locations that have had administrative cases made against them for violating the Alcoholic Beverage Code.  This policy directly contradicts state law that states any commissioned peace officer can conduct an inspection on a licensed location 24/7.  What this has caused in the past is agents going into the bars over and over.  There was an incident where I and agents I work with were accused by a permitee, bar owner, of targeting them, because we made multiple inspections and conducted multiple undercover operations in the location.  We tried to explain that we have to make inspections and conducted undercover operations on locations that are the ACUP list.  This would not be a real big issue if agents weren’t required to have a certain number of inspections per week.  Another issue that this causes is when peace officers from other agencies asked for our assistance.  Anytime an officer asks for help we have to tell them about the ACUP list and there have been multiple times that by the time an officer makes a formal complaint on a location, the problem could have been prevented by a random inspection.  Most of the time local law enforcement is not able to dedicate time to problem bars due to having to answer calls, man power issues, etc.  If enforcement agents could make inspections according to the law a lot problems could be solved before they form.
Another issue with TABC is, despite being peace officers, agent have to be very careful when enforcing criminal law.  Ever since the infamous Rainbow Lounge incident there have been vast amounts of times where something will happen where I can see it and I can’t do anything about it, because it is possible I could face repercussions from Austin.  I had a captain, after the Rainbow Lounge, tell me and other agents to “sit on our hands” and only work 8 to 5 and not to “get into anything”.  This attitude can be summed up by a statement made by Dexter Jones, he stated “Agents are regulators first, and police officers second”.  There have been multiple times were agents would enforce criminal law, and a pencil pusher in Austin would ask “why were you there”.  There have been multiple times, more than I could begin to count, where I’ll be driving down the road and I see a driver violate the traffic law, nearly causing a wreck, but I can’t pull the person over due to policy stating that for me to make a traffic stop that there has to be an ongoing danger to public safety.  This has also caused issues with subjects that are publicly intoxicated.  Whenever we find someone that is intoxicated in a location we are to wait until a ride for the subject can be found.  I’m all for helping someone out, but it becomes an issue when we have to standby for long periods of time, which causes the officer safety to go down.  I have been told that even when we do find subjects a ride they will return to the bar after we leave or go somewhere else and continue to get intoxicated.  I don’t like putting people in jail but I’d rather put someone in jail for Class C PI instead of them getting a DWI or killing another motorist, but due to orders out of Austin a lot of times we have to let people go.  TABC claims to be all about public safety, but when it comes to enforcing criminal laws related to public safety not so much.
Another issue with TABC is a policy that states an agent cannot have any ties to the alcohol industry, for example an agents spouse is not allowed to work at a grocery store that sells alcohol.  I can understand that the reason for this policy is so no favoritism will be displayed to certain locations.  My problem with this is the Chairman of the Commission, Jose Cuevas, owns several restaurants that sale alcohol.  It seems hypocritical to me, but I’m just an agent.  Is it ok for him because he’s politically connected?  I never have gotten that answered and I don’t dare ask.  Speaking of Cuevas, his restaurants had been caught violating the Alcoholic Beverage Code.  Due to agents doing their jobs Cuevas, not that he’ll admit it, now holds a grudge against the enforcement and auditing divisions.  My question is how someone who not only owns locations that sell alcohol, but said locations have violated the code, is on the board of commissioners for the state agency that is charged with enforcing the liquor laws of the state.
Lastly and possibly the biggest issue with TABC is the upper echelon simply does not care about “lowly field agents”.  Agents within TABC have to walk on egg shells whenever someone from HQ makes a visit to their office.  I remember an incident that happened with Sherry Cook.  During a large district meeting Sherry, along with Chief Robert Saenz, told agents that they could ask any question that they wanted without any repercussions.  An agent asked “Due to the ACUP policy I am only going into about six locations multiple times during a week to get my inspection numbers required every week.  Why can’t we conduct inspections according to the state law”?  The response he was given from Sherry Cook was “Well we are not here to bounce anybody’s dance”.  The agent replied by asking “how are we bouncing dances by making inspections that the law says we can”?  At that time Saenz interrupted and told everyone to take a break.  During the break Saenz told the Lt of the agent to “reel in your guys or I will fire all of you”.  This attitude at the top has caused agent morale to hit rock bottom.  I also know that everything that I am saying in this email will be denied by the people in HQ.  Agents have no faith in the administration.  The top administration in TABC will smile and shake your hand with their right hand, while stabbing you in the back with their left.  I know that if my name were to get out in relation to this email I would immediately be fired.  I also fear that the agents that I work with would also be terminated.  I also remember being told that someone within TABC wanted to come up with a program for families of agents killed on duty.  I was told that Sherry asked the person “why do we need something like that”.
I figured after over 50 years of being around TABC and seeing it go from one of the most respected agencies in the State of Texas to the laughing stock of Texas Law Enforcement that it was time to speak up, and let people know what is going in.  It is our job to make sure that anyone selling alcohol is doing it responsibly, but we are being limited so heavily by our own headquarters, who are more concerned with being politically correct.  Not too long ago I had another peace officer from another agency tell me “you guys aren’t even f-ing cops anymore”.  I feel sorry for future agents who will have to put up with this their whole career.  If something does not change soon I am afraid the attitude of the powers that be in Austin will cause agents to be hurt, or even be killed, while on duty.
I hope that you can help.
So do I.  Keep sending those tips, and I’ll do my best.