Gary Tuchman | BIO
Over the last few weeks, I've interviewed a number of people who were not so happy to see me. I've also TRIED to interview some people who weren't so happy to see me. These are folks the public relies on - police officers and district attorneys - but they've been accused of ethical and maybe criminal violations.
We've been reporting on the misuse of laws that allow police to take money and valuables from drivers in certain circumstances when they are suspected of committing serious crimes.
The "asset forfeiture" law is sound. The idea is to take "ill gotten gains" away from crooks, and to give the money to police departments and DA's offices for the public good.
But we've gotten emails and calls from viewers all over the country telling us stories of overzealous police who've shaken down innocent drivers.
We've also heard about district attorneys who spend the money on things like conferences in Hawaii, donations to their favorite churches, parties, and mysterious checks to judges and cops.
We've been focusing our stories in Texas because we've heard some of the most horrific stories there, and Texas introduced legislation to greatly toughen oversight on DA's and police so forfeitures are done more ethically.
In Shelby County, in eastern Texas, a district attorney refused to come to work while we were in town. She was accused of offering deals to drivers to drop charges in exchange for keeping their valuables. She also wrote a check for 10 thousand bucks to a cop who does most of the forfeitures. We know that because we found the records of it. We ultimately found her singing country music at a firehouse fundraiser over the weekend. She refused to say a word to me.
In Jim Wells County Texas, a former DA was accused of using the public money to pay his secretaries bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars annually for many years. At first, he didn't want to talk on camera either. But ultimately, he did, saying his secretaries were "loyal, great employees, and watched his back," and he felt it was proper to use the forfeiture money for that reason.
And this week, we were in Kimble County west of Austin where the former DA used forfeiture money to take some of his staff on week-long conferences to Hawaii on four separate occasions. He also had a check written for thousands of dollars of per diem expenses in the Aloha State.
Oh, and on at least one of those trips, a local judge who hears the forfeiture cases came along. The judge did not want to talk to us. When I met up with him outside the courthouse, he said he could not comment. Interestingly, he said part of the reason he couldn't is that he hears forfeiture cases.
The former DA did go on camera, and told us that his "conscience is clear," and that he had no problem spending that money because they took legal classes and got credits. But the classes only lasted for three days and were less than four hours a day. And the trip was a week. Nevertheless, the former DA says he doesn't believe he violated the statute in the law that requires the money to be used for "official purposes."
And it can be argued he's correct. The Texas law is ambiguous, so that's why a bill was introduced to give the state Attorney General oversight over all the DA's who can now do basically what they want.
That bill was passed unanimously in the state Senate. It was passed unanimously by a House committee. The governor was expected to sign it as soon as the full House approved it.
But then a strange thing happened. The House got stuck on other measures, and didn't vote on the bill. And on June 1, the Texas legislative session ended. In Texas, the legislature only meets once every two years, so now, this law, which is overwhelmingly supported, can't be passed until 2011.
So, it's fair to say you can expect some more stories from us about these questionable practices.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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