Thursday, October 28, 2010

Todd Staples' slimy pyramid scheme

Even compared to the vast corruption of Rick Perry, the incumbent agriculture commissioner occasionally manages to one-up the Eagle Scout/Aggie yell leader.

A criminal case from the mid-1990s refers to an "endless chain scheme" called the Friends Gifting Network (or the "Friends Gift Network" or  "Friends Network" or "Friends Helping Friends", and a variety of similar names).

In 1994, Todd Staples participated in this pyramid scheme and had family (his brother-in-law) participating in it. A criminal complaint was filed in Anderson County -- the seat is Palestine, Staples' hometown -- and Staples' brother-in-law was arrested and charged. The Palestine city attorney followed up by requesting help from the Anderson County district attorney for assistance in investigating the illegal pyramid scheme. (Staples is between elected-official jobs at this time; he has previously served on the Palestine city council, and for the years 1990 and '91 as mayor pro tem.)

This document reveals that the case was put on "hold" in 1994 and then dismissed in '96.

The case was dismissed because Todd Staples -- who was elected state representative in a special election to fill a vacancy in 1995 -- voted in favor of legislation that legalized the crime for which his brother-in-law was charged. This had the added benefit, of course, of making it impossible for Staples himself to ever face any charges or even be questioned in detail about the matter by a prosecutor, or the media.

But Staples wasn't finished. From the press release:

Staples and others managed to escape prosecution for their participation in the illegal enterprise, and court records reveal that Staples and Jeff Herrington, the Anderson County DA at the time, worked in concert to get the officer that investigated the scheme and arrested Staples’ brother-in-law removed from his job. At the time, the same police officer who investigated Staples’ brother-in-law was raising serious questions concerning why Herrington and his office received an unauthorized share of federal drug forfeiture funds. Additionally, a member of Herrington's staff had been implicated along with Staples in the pyramid scheme.

You read it right. Staples exacted revenge on the officer who investigated the case, Commander Jerry Powell of the Texas DPS, by colluding with DA Herrington to remove Powell from his post.

According to additional court records, shortly thereafter, Staples became involved in a series of events leading to the removal of a narcotics officer who arrested his brother-in-law and was the lead officer investigating the Friend’s Gifting Network.

Court records show that Staples’ facilitated meetings with the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety at the behest of, among others, the same Anderson County District Attorney whose staff member was involved in the pyramid scheme, in order to discuss removal of the police officer.

Court filings also show that, were the word of Staples’ high-level participation in the Friend’s Gifting Network become publicly known prior to the 1995 special election to replace State Rep. Elton Bomer, it would have likely ended Staples’ political career. The same court filings show that Staples’ assistance to the District Attorney came at a time when he and his office were accused of receiving an unauthorized share of funds seized during a federal narcotics investigation. The same police officer who arrested Staples’ brother-in-law had initiated inquiries to determine why the DA’s office had received this share of funding.

This document contains a transcript of an undercover phone call regarding Friends Gifting Network; these documents show Staples' rise to "vice-president" in the Friends Network pyramid scheme and contain the police case file on Staples' brother-in-law. This document is the transcript of the arrest in which Staples' brother-in-law helps entice the undercover police officer to participate in the pyramid scheme.

Finally, these documents contain the response to Staples' Motion for Summary Judgment, and the Affidavit of Plaintiff talks about Staples' motivation, mentioning the case's potential for damaging his budding political career.

Let's review: Todd Staples participated in an illegal pyramid scheme which bilked hundreds of East Texans out of thousands of dollars. The crime was investigated and his accomplice brother-in-law charged. Staples went on to be elected to the Texas Legislature, where he voted in favor of a bill which made illegal pyramid schemes legal, exonerating his brother-in-law in the process. Staples then conducted a personal vendetta against the investigating officer of the case.

All so as not to damage his future political viability. Because as all Texans are aware, you never know when the agriculture commissioner might one day become the longest-serving governor in the history of Texas.

Do we want to really reward this slimeball with re-election? No, we don't.

We want a new Commissioner of Agriculture (whose greatest crime, it should be noted, happens to be not wearing his seatbelt, and working out a payment plan with the IRS).

Update: Read this Dallas Morning News story and don't miss reading the comments.

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