This is a story about a corrupt law enforcement official and his accomplices. So many individuals were involved and there were several witnesses. How did this man think he would never be caught?
For those of you who were not born and raised in Texas, you may not be familiar with a constable. 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 are peace officers who 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 a citizen reports to them.
Texas constable Fred Walker 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.
Based on interviews conducted by FBI agents and Texas Rangers, the affidavit quotes the Shelby County Constable as saying he authorized the installation of hidden surveillance cameras and digital recorders despite not having the legal authority to do so.
The affidavit also includes a statement from a witness who claims Walker helped organize a scheme to sell drugs seized from suspects.
It’s just another chapter in a longtime drama in Tenaha, a town of 1,160 near the Louisiana border. Fred Walker,53, was Tenaha’s city marshal at the time of the alleged bugging. He was elected as constable in 2010.
Nearly $800,000 in cash has been seized from motorists stopped for traffic violations along U.S. Highway 59 in this town leading to lawsuits and a federal criminal investigation of the county’s former district attorney and other officials.
In a brief phone interview, Walker said he knew nothing about the affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Lufkin on Feb. 6. When asked if he arranged to have offices bugged, he hung up.
Walker’s attorney, Bassey Akpaffiong, 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. The business owner, Roderrette McClure, pleaded guilty Tuesday to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Authorities found firearms after obtaining the warrant last August to search for hard drives and other computer devices on McClure’s property.
According to the affidavit, 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.
Walker acknowledged in an interview the same day that he had authorized the installation of the devices in Washington’s office and at City Hall, the affidavit states.
Washington and Bowers are among the defendants in a class action lawsuit that asserts authorities in Tenaha and Shelby County threatened innocent motorists, most of them black, with money laundering charges if they didn’t forfeit the money they were carrying. Walker has been deposed as part of the suit, initiated in 2008, but isn’t named as a defendant.
The Associated Press reported last October that the forfeitures, directed by District Attorney Lynda Kaye Russell, also allowed motorists who genuinely fit the description of drug runners or money launderers to receive light sentences or completely escape criminal prosecution. It sounds like this was how the D.A. intended to keep the motorists from talking. 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 drug-trafficking routes – a perfect route for shaking down and intimidating motorists.
FBI agents have interviewed many of the motorists, and a federal grand jury in Tyler also has interviewed witnesses and collected evidence, according to individuals who have been questioned as part of the probe.
The search warrant affidavit says the FBI and Texas Rangers began investigating Walker and McClure in August 2010 after Walker reported that 500 pounds of marijuana and other drugs were stolen from his evidence room. Investigators later wondered if the robbery had been staged.
The plot thickened 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 ecstasy and marijuana.
The man who said he wrote the letters told authorities that McClure said he and Walker were stealing marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and hydrocodone (Vicodin) from the room and selling it through other people. The document 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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