This is a story with many twists and turns about a corrupt law enforcement official and his accomplices who let their greed lead them down a path where they were surely to be caught one day. When you involve this many people and create this many witnesses, everything is bound to catch up with you.
For those of you who were not born and raised in Texas, you may be surprised when you see a constables patrol car drive past you. A Texas constable is a law enforcement officer who is elected by the county residents they serve. A constable and the constable’s deputies are the enforcement officers for the local Justice of the Peace. They and their deputies are peace officers and they have a lot of authority. The constable and deputy constables can make arrests, issue citations and are authorized to investigate any crime or traffic offense that happens in their presence or that is reported by a citizen.
A Texas constable told the FBI he secretly bugged other official’s offices after they were accused of illegally forcing motorists to forfeit their cash, according to a search warrant affidavit.
The affidavit, based on interviews conducted by FBI agents and Texas Rangers, quotes Shelby County Constable Fred Walker as saying he authorized the installation of hidden surveillance cameras and digital recorders even though he didn’t have legal authority.
It also includes a statement from a witness who claims Walker helped organize a scheme to sell drugs seized from suspects.
Tenaha is a small town of 1,160 not far from the Louisiana border. Fred Walker,53, was Tenaha’s city marshal at the time of the alleged bugging. In 2010, he was elected as constable.
Approximately $800,000 in cash has been seized over time from motorists stopped for traffic violations along U.S. Highway 59. These incidents have led to lawsuits and a federal criminal investigation of the county’s former district attorney, along with other officials.
Walker claims to know nothing about the affidavit that was filed in U.S. District Court in Lufkin on Feb. 6. In a phone interview, where he made this denial, he was also asked if he arranged to have offices bugged. It was then that Walker hung up the phone on the interviewer, refusing to respond to this question.
Bassey Akpaffiong is Walker’s attorney and said prosecutors have told him to expect an indictment. Akpaffiong said Walker was never involved in selling drugs and never told the FBI he authorized the installation of secret listening devices.
The search warrant affidavit was filed as part of a federal case against the owner of a computer repair business in Tenaha. Roderrette McClure, the business owner, pleaded guilty Tuesday to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Authorities obtained the warrant last August to search for hard drives and other computer devices on McClure’s property. It was during this search that they found firearms.
McClure told authorities that Walker had him install surveillance cameras disguised as smoke detectors and hidden voice-activated digital recording equipment in the offices of Tenaha Mayor George Bowers and Deputy City Marshal Barry Washington. Walker said he wanted to “cover” himself over the traffic stops, most of which were conducted by Washington, according to McClure in the affidavit.
On that same day in an interview with Walker, he acknowledged that he had indeed authorized the installation of the devices in Washington’s office and at City Hall – again according to the affidavit.
A class action lawsuit, initiated in 2008, asserts that authorities in Tenaha and Shelby County threatened innocent motorists, most of them black, with money laundering charges if they didn’t forfeit over the money they were carrying. Although Walker has been deposed as part of the suit; he hasn’t been named as a defendant.
According to an Associated Press report from last October, the forfeitures were directed by District Attorney Lynda Kaye Russell. Russell allowed motorists who fit the description of drug runners or money launderers to receive light sentences or escape criminal prosecution altogether. I guess that was their reward for handing over their money and hopefully keeping their mouths shut. Russell left her post at the end of 2011.
U.S. Highway 59, which runs from the U.S.-Mexico border to Canada, is one of the country’s best-known routes for drug-trafficking. Apparently, a perfect route for shaking down motorists.
Many of the motorists have been interviewed by FBI agents. Also, a federal grand jury in Tyler has interviewed witnesses and collected evidence, according to individuals who have been questioned as part of the probe. The investigation is being headed by the Department of Justice’s civil rights division in Washington.
The investigation into Walker and McCluire began in August 2010 when Walker reported that 500 pounds of marijuana and other drugs were stolen from his evidence room. Investigators later thought the robbery had been staged.
The story gets juicier when in November 2010, Walker and McClure asked authorities to investigate extortion letters they received in which someone identified as “Jack Frost” was seeking money to keep quiet about selling drugs from the evidence room.
Investigators located a man who admitted writing the letters, and he said he had been recruited by McClure to sell marijuana and ecstasy.
The letter writer told authorities that McClure said he and Walker were stealing marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and hydrocodone (Vicodin) from the room and selling it through other individuals. The affidavit quotes the man as saying McClure and Walker replaced the stolen marijuana with “fire bricks” and that the burglary was staged to cover for the missing drugs.
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