For decades, public corruption cases against state officials were investigated and prosecuted in Texas’ capital city. But in 2015, after a dustup at the highest levels of state government, lawmakers instead moved those responsibilities to the Texas Rangers and local prosecutors. A new analysis of the cases from the past five years reveals few have been prosecuted and most Ranger investigations focused on lower-level officials. In an investigative collaboration with the Texas Observer and other media outlets, KXAN takes a closer look at the Central Texas cases falling short and the legislative history that led to a system critics claim does little to hold your elected leaders accountable. Watch our investigative video feature and read our immersive report on this page.

		Pictured is the Wilbarger Creek Drive low-water crossing that was rebuilt following 2015 floods. Authorities charged Bastrop Commissioner Bubba Snowden with abuse of official capacity, a felony, for using county resources to improve the private road leading to the bridge. (KXAN/Josh Hinkle)
A new low water crossing sits on Wilbarger Creek in northeast Bastrop County. County commissioners approved funding the bridge following 2015 flood damage. The legality of resurfacing 0.8 miles of the connecting private road later became a focus in a public integrity indictment against Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary “Bubba” Snowden. (KXAN Photo/Josh Hinkle)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Massive floods tore through Central Texas on Memorial Day weekend in 2015. Rivers spilled over their banks and ripped waterfront homes from their foundations. Towns were inundated.

While tragic deaths on the Blanco River and a ruptured dam in Bastrop State Park captured headlines, few noticed the damage to a low water crossing on Wilbarger Creek Drive — a private dead-end road south of Elgin.

Nobody knew then how that broken bridge would brew a political storm of its own. Two years later, Bastrop County Commissioner Gary “Bubba” Snowden would be charged with three counts of abuse of official capacity. Two of the charges were felonies for misusing public dollars and county resources to resurface part of the road without county commissioners’ approval.

Snowden’s case was investigated under the state’s redesigned Public Integrity Unit. The previous state-funded Public Integrity Unit housed in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office was dismantled in 2015, following allegations it was politicizing prosecutions. State lawmakers aimed to reform the system by moving state public corruption investigations to the Department of Public Safety’s Texas Rangers and prosecuting accused officials in their home counties rather than Travis County.

Though the sea change in Public Integrity Unit prosecutions didn’t fundamentally alter how Snowden’s case was handled, the former Bastrop County commissioner’s indictment and prosecution do exemplify most public corruption cases processed under the new system.

Now, six years later, an investigation by the Texas Observer and KXAN found prosecutions of statewide public officials for corruption are nearly non-existent. Since 2015, the Rangers investigated a handful of state-level elected leaders, but few faced charges.

Travis Travis

Bastrop County

Texas Rangers investigated one case of abuse of official capacity in Bastrop County. That case was prosecuted.

County Commissioner Gary “Bubba” Snowden


Burnet County

Texas Rangers investigated two cases in Burnet County, involving allegations of perjury and official oppression. One case was prosecuted.

Bertram Police Chief James “J.J.” Wilson


Fayette County

Texas Rangers investigated one case of misuse of official information in Fayette County. That case was prosecuted.

Fayette County Sheriff Dispatcher Richard Kovar


Lee County

Texas Rangers investigated two cases in Lee County, both involved allegations of official oppression. One case was prosecuted.

Public official – expunged/report not available


Travis County

Texas Rangers investigated 14 cases in Travis County, including allegations of theft by a public servant, abuse of official capacity, tampering with a government record, forgery, misuse of official information, fraud and bribery. Two cases were prosecuted.

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Dept. of Public Safety License Employee

Click the Central Texas counties in blue on the interactive map for a list of officials prosecuted in those areas between 2015-2020 following Texas Rangers public integrity investigations. Click the links in the popup boxes to explore each investigative report. (Texas Observer Data Analysis/KXAN Interactive)

From 2015 to 2020, the Texas Rangers completed more than 560 public corruption case investigations, but only 67 of those cases have been prosecuted, according to DPS data analyzed by the Observer. DPS said in an email to the Observer there were hundreds more inquiries and complaints beyond those investigated. No officials with DPS or the Texas Rangers would agree to speak with KXAN for this report.

The prosecutions that have taken place are mostly against lower-level local officials or government employees and typically end with light sentences. Several Central Texas cases followed that pattern.

In 2015, critics of reforming the Travis County Public Integrity Unit said a legislative overhaul would have the opposite effect of what reformers intended. They said prosecuting public officials in their home territory and giving local prosecutors the option to oversee cases — and drop charges — would invite a new type of corruption and reduce accountability.

‘Home cooking’

House Bill 1690 was signed into law in September of that year, but not before a number of watchdog groups and a prosecution expert vented their concerns with the legislation.

“This seems to be an issue of home cooking, if you will,” said Sarah Smith, who represented Texas Public Interest Research Group. Smith testified at a March 26, 2015, hearing for the bill in the House General Investigating and Ethics Committee.

“You can go back to your district with the same DAs that you probably campaigned with on the election trail, the same judges that you’ve probably known all your life, and I think the biggest issue is the perception,” she said.