By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
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By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
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Wooten became constable of the south Harris County precinct January 1, 2001. The district attorney's office began its investigation ten months later. According to Donna Goode, division chief of the Public Integrity Division of the district attorney's office, the county auditor discovered Precinct 7 employees had billed the county for working more than 24 hours a day and working while on vacation. The auditor also discovered employees had double-billed the county and a temp agency for the same 40-hour week and had misappropriated a Texas Department of Transportation grant.
In May 2002, Wooten was charged with second-degree theft by a public servant. Prosecutors allege that he ran a time-sheet scam that netted employees approximately $96,000. Another indictment followed in July for abuse of official capacity after he was accused of appointing honorary deputies by selling county-purchased badges, and requiring on-duty deputies to keep him company while he watched television, to lend him money, or to drive to Brenham to buy his daughter groceries. Wooten was also accused of summoning staff to a mandatory meeting in the courtroom of the justice of the peace to discuss his re-election campaign fund-raiser. "You just can't do that," Sanders says. "That's not permissible."
In March, Wooten was convicted of theft and sentenced to five years in prison plus a $1 fine. He did not respond to the Press's request for an interview. The second charge of abuse of power is pending and scheduled for trial this month.
In early May, Wooten's attorneys filed a motion for new trial on the conviction. Wooten's criminal attorney, Robert A. Jones, says he hopes to get the second charge dropped.
Kimmi Valentine's desk was located outside Wooten's office. In her at-a-glance calendar, along with reminders of doctor's appointments, her mother's birthday and her son's basketball practice, she jotted notes about who went in Wooten's office, and stapled memos and Post-it notes from her supervisors. Anything she thought was wrong, she documented.
It was mandatory for staffers to sell tickets to Wooten's various fund-raisers; instead of selling her set, Valentine gave her tickets to the district attorney.
The D.A.'s investigator contacted Valentine shortly before Wooten's first indictment. She had lunch with the investigator at Boudreaux's, and on another occasion met him at the dollar store across the street from the precinct. She told the investigator that Wooten had a video camera outside his office, required employees to work unpaid overtime and had deputies run errands for him. "She was a cooperative witness," Goode says. "If we needed information we could contact her."
Valentine cried every day when she drove to Precinct 7. No one spoke to her in the office -- she believes Wooten discovered she was talking to the district attorney's office and threatened to fire employees if they spoke to her. Stressed and depressed, she refused to cook and yelled at her husband and sons. Her husband told her to resign. "I'm not a quitter," she says. "I'm not gonna let somebody make me quit." Her stomach was always in knots; she lost 70 pounds and temporarily moved in with her mother. "I stayed there, and I put up with it, but it cost me my family," Valentine says.
A nursing school dropout, Valentine had worked two years as an administrative assistant and dialysis technician, but she says she became too attached to patients. She took a payroll job at the Harris County Sheriff's Office largely because of the retirement package.
When Valentine received a subpoena to testify before the grand jury, Wooten gave her a $3-an-hour raise. The jury adjourned before she was called to testify. According to Valentine's affidavit, when she returned to the office, Wooten summoned her and asked what she had told the jury. She told him that she had answered questions truthfully.
She didn't tell him she did not testify. Later that same day, she was transferred to a criminal warrant clerk position in the dispatch area on the other side of the building.
Valentine was fired less than three months later. Her termination letter states: "Since you have been in your present position, you have failed to perform your duty. I have lost faith in you and your ability to do your job at Precinct 7."
While she was driving home from the office, Valentine says, the county attorney's office called her cell phone to set up a meeting. "The county knew she was fired before her husband did," Josephson says. The following week, Valentine signed an affidavit at the county attorney's office that was attached to the county's motion to remove Wooten from office. She claims an assistant county attorney informed her that she had a whistle-blower claim and said the real reason she was fired was because she had cooperated with the district attorney.
In an amended answer to the whistle-blower suit, the county wrote that Valentine does not have a claim because she didn't file the suit within the 90-day statute of limitations. Josephson argues that Valentine didn't know she was a whistle-blower until the county told her, which was within the three-month window.
Valentine's affidavit says that one month before she was fired she received two commendations for exceptional work. The county attorney's office insists Valentine was fired for poor work performance as documented in her personnel file.