Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino could've skated by four felony indictments by simply resigning, accepting a slap on the wrist, and copping to the equivalent of a traffic violation. But Trevino rejected the deal offered by the Harris County District Attorney's Office early this year, opting instead to go to trial late last week on corruption charges.
Well, that gamble backfired. Following opening arguments in his trial Friday, Trevino on Monday pleaded guilty to misapplication of fiduciary duty, a felony that could put him in prison for up to 10 years. Prosecutors alleged Trevino siphoned cash from his charity, the Constable's Athletic Recreational and Education Events Inc., to buy Lotto tickets and fund gambling trips to Louisiana. Prosecutors also accused Trevino of failing to report campaign cash contributions and for letting his on-the-clock deputies serve eviction notices for landlords.
So what was Trevino's grand defense strategy? His attorney Chip Lewis told the Chron last week that Tevino's troubles were merely amatter of bad bookkeeping, not criminal action. "The problem is, they didn't have the proper bookkeeping and I think once a jury hears the facts, they'll see that this is much ado about nothing."
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But now that Trevino has pleaded guilty to a felony, there's a lingering question: If the case was so strong that prosecutors could push Trevino to plead guilty to a felony after one day of trial, then why did the DA's office offer the deal -- step down, take a class C misdemeanor, walk away -- in the first place? Lewis wouldn't answer questions when reached by email yesterday, and assistant district attorney Bill Moore, who handled the case, didn't return requests for comment (
we'll update if he does *see update posted below this story).
Perhaps the DA's office just wanted to get a corrupt official out of office as soon as possible. Depending on the gravity of the crime and the abuse of office, that could very well be a reasonable motivating factor. But good luck finding anyone who isn't a public official who, when indicted on four felony counts, gets the option to walk away with a class C misdemeanor.
Updated at 10:40 a.m.: Moore with the DA's office called us back and told us that, prior to the county "expending the resources to prepare for trial," the class C misdemeanor offer seemed like "a fair resolution" had Trevino agreed to resign immediately. Asked if the offer could be construed as special treatment for an elected official, Moore responded:
"I can see people thinking that, but this was more of a situation where you've got a very popular elected official, and we were trying our best to resolve the case and have him resign from the position... At that time, having him resign, that was a pretty big priority for us, but when that wasn't going to happen, we expended the resources to prepare for trial."