(Texas Tribune) — Todd Smith, a top political consultant to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, was indicted Tuesday on felony charges of theft and commercial bribery related to taking money in exchange for state hemp licenses that are doled out through Miller’s office, according to Travis County district attorney José Garza.
Smith was arrested in May, accused of taking $55,000 as part of the scheme, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. Smith and others were accused of soliciting up to $150,000 to get an “exclusive” hemp license from the Texas Department of Agriculture. Smith allegedly said $25,000 would be used for a public poll on hemp. A hemp license from the state costs $100, according to the arrest warrant.
“We are holding accountable powerful actors who abuse the system and break the law,” Garza said. “Our community needs to know that no one is above the law and will face justice.”
Smith could not immediately be reached for comment but his attorneys said in a statement that their client has not broken any laws.
“We are disappointed that the Travis County District Attorney has obtained an indictment against Todd Smith, he was not invited to address the grand jury. He is not guilty of these charges and intends to vigorously defend himself against the allegations made by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office,” attorneys Sam Bassett and Perry Minton said in a statement.
The Legislature legalized hemp production, manufacturing and retail in 2019, opening the door for the rise of cannabidiol, or CBD, products. At the time of the alleged solicitations, the Texas Department of Agriculture was developing regulations for the emerging hemp industry.
The indictment comes as Miller seeks a third term as agriculture commissioner. Miller is up against two Republican challengers in the March primary, state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, and Carey Counsil, an economics professor at Blinn College.
Miller’s challengers have already targeted him, attempting to link him to Smith. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle earlier this month, Miller dismissed the allegations against Smith, whom he still employs.
“It happens every election. They know they’re not going to get you on anything, but the process is the penalty. All they need is a headline: Sid Miller’s political consultant under investigation for selling hemp licenses,” Miller told the Chronicle. “Well, they brought him in for questioning. They said OK, this was 8 months ago, they said we’re not filing charges and we’re not indicting you, so end of the story, folks, move on. But they got the headlines, so they bring up that old crap.”
Miller on Tuesday evening declined immediate comment, saying he was just learning the news of the indictment from the Tribune reporter. He later went on conservative radio host Chad Hasty’s show and said he’s gonna review indictment, but he’s “not ready to throw [Smith] under the bus” and is “not surprised,” suggesting it’s politically motivated. Miller says he still doesn’t believe Smith did anything wrong.
Smith has faced scrutiny before over his conduct and ties to the Department of Agriculture. In 2018, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Smith promised a San Antonio businessperson an appointment with the Department of Agriculture in exchange for a $29,000 loan. And in 2016, Miller gave Smith’s wife a newly created assistant commissioner position, one of the highest-paying roles in the department.
James Barragán and Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.