Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore announced Monday that prosecutors have dropped all charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, ending a two-year saga in which the veteran Austin Democrat was investigated by the Texas Rangers, indicted on corruption charges, and beat the rap.
1. Dukes reneged on a deal she struck with prosecutors to avoid all charges by resigning. A week after the Texas Rangers delivered their investigative report to Travis County prosecutors in the fall of 2016, Dukes announced that she would resign when her two-year term expired in January 2017. Dukes cited health reasons at the time, but prosecutors have since confirmed that the retirement plan was part of a deal struck by Dukes and then-District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. But after Moore became district attorney in the beginning of January, Dukes reversed course and was sworn in to a 12th term. A grand jury indicted her a week later.
2. A key witness changed his story, according to prosecutors. The most serious allegation against Dukes — a 13-count felony indictment — centered around travel reimbursement forms that Dukes submitted in 2013 and 2014 to collect pay for days she claimed to be working during the legislative interim. A former aide told the American-Statesman that Dukes collected the $61.50 payments for days she did not work at the Capitol.
House Business Office Executive Director Steve Adrian told a State Auditor’s Office investigator in early 2016 that lawmakers have to be at the Capitol for the days they claim on the forms, according to a sworn statement the investigator gave in September 2017. Prosecutors believed they could prove Dukes wasn’t at the Capitol for 13 dates she claimed, based on her cell phone records. Almost a year later, however, Adrian told Dukes’ attorneys that lawmakers do not have to be at the Capitol to collect the pay and only have to be doing legislative work.
3. Investigators did not get a sworn statement from Adrian early in the case. In addition to speaking with the auditor’s office, Adrian also met with a Travis County prosecutor in the first half of 2016. Neither had Adrian give a recorded statement at the time, making it more difficult for them to argue that he had changed his story.
4. A high-ranking lawmaker backed up Adrian’s interpretation. Despite the wording of the rule — which says lawmakers are only entitled to the pay if they travel “to Austin to attend to legislative duties in their office” — House Administration Committee Chairman Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who oversees the chamber’s operations, told prosecutors in September that the House gives lawmakers more leeway to interpret when they can use the reimbursement.
5. A state crime analyst made a clerical error. For one of the 13 dates that prosecutors accused Dukes of improperly collecting the travel reimbursement, a Texas Department of Public Safety crime analyst examined the wrong date when looking at Dukes’ cell phone records. After discovering the error earlier this month, prosecutors dropped one of the charges, only to drop the rest two weeks later.