Joe Frank Garza: Pleads Guilty to Misusing Millions in Seized Drug Cash

Joe Frank Garza, the Valley district attorney who for years has been loudly proclaiming his innocence on charges that he misused millions in seized drug money, changed his tune today.

The Texas Attorney General's office, which has been prosecuting the case against Garza, says the former DA pleaded guilty to misappropriating more than $2 million and faces time in the Jim Wells County Jail.

For six years ending in 2008, law enforcement officials eagerly and aggressively pulled over cars and received millions in forfeited property and cash. Garza spent the cash on bonuses for himself and three secretaries. The AG's office says the bonuses were not approved, as mandated by law, by the commissioners court.

Oh, there were also plenty of Las Vegas trips for "seminars."

Says the AG's office:

Under Texas law, district attorneys may only supplement their salaries - and their employees' salaries - from the forfeiture fund if the local county commissioners court approves the pay raises. Despite those legal requirements, then-District Attorney Garza failed to obtain the necessary approval and instead improperly used the asset forfeiture funds under his control for his and others' personal financial benefit. Garza also never submitted a budget for the use of these funds to county commissioners for approval, as required by Texas law.

The current DA, Armando Barrera, ousted Garza partly by running against his use of forfeited property and cash.

"The Attorney General's Office is calling for the former district attorney to serve 180 days in the Jim Wells County Jail as a condition of ten years probation," prosecutors said. Garza will also pay restitution of $2.1 million and a $10,000 fine.

Sentencing is set for May 6.

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