Dukes case tests new system for political corruption investigations

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A system meant to keep the people you elect honest is getting one of its first tests with the indictment of State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin.

State lawmakers accused the public integrity unit of being too political last legislative session. The unit used to be housed in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. When it was, lawyers got indictments against big names such as U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay.

The Republican-led legislature pointed out the DA’s office in Travis County was usually led by a Democrat and shouldn’t be the state’s watchdog. So, lawmakers put the Texas Rangers in charge of investigations and district attorneys in each elected official’s home counties were put in charge of prosecutions.

When a grand jury indicted Dukes, it was after a Texas Rangers investigation, rather than an investigation out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.

“[The Texas Rangers] do a fantastic job. They’ve got the commitment of the legislature and the resources to do it and the expertise,” said Margaret Moore, the newly-elected Travis County district attorney.

Dawnna Dukes mugshot on Jan. 18, 2017. (Travis County Sheriff's Office)

Moore is not pushing to get statewide corruption cases back under the oversight of her office. However, she would like the legislature to support a return of statewide fraud investigations to the office.

“I think [Dawnna Dukes’ indictment] shows that the investigation part of [the change to the public integrity unit] is working,” said Moore. “I don’t think it’s any sort of indication as to whether going back to a home county makes any difference. Although, I guess you could say she is in her home county and she still got indicted.”

Remember, the second part of the change made to the public integrity unit made it so officials face prosecution where they live instead of Travis County. For Dukes, home and Travis County are one and the same.

A November report from the Senate Committee of State Affairs notes Texas Rangers launched 12 criminal investigations. Those are against three state officials and nine state employees, who are not named in the documents. The report also recommends continuing to support the new unit this legislative session.

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