by Ed Housewright:
July 31, 2010 - Patricia Crigger, the incoming Collin County district clerk, and five other office supervisors have been indicted on charges of engaging in organized criminal activity.
The indictments stem from a Texas Rangers investigation that alleges Crigger and the others pressured district clerk employees to work on Crigger's spring campaign.
Crigger received about 54 percent of the April 13 Republican primary runoff election vote, defeating law office manager Alma Hays.
She faces no Democratic opposition on the November 2, 2010 election ballot and is therefore due to take office Jan. 1, replacing longtime District Clerk Hannah Kunkle, who is retiring.
The general election is Nov. 2. The deadline to remove a candidate's name is Aug. 20, according to the Texas secretary of state's office.
If Crigger withdraws her name before then, the local Republican Party executive committee can name a replacement to be on the ballot, said Ann McGeehan, elections director for the secretary of state.
The Democratic Party of Collin County Executive Committee also would be allowed to place a name on the ballot, even though the party had no candidate in the primary.
Anyone can file as a write-in candidate through Aug. 24, McGeehan said.
If Crigger doesn't withdraw her name by Aug. 20, she will stay on the ballot. She would win the election if she receives the most votes.
If she is still under indictment, has not been convicted and decides not to take office Jan. 1, the county's state district judges would name her replacement, McGeehan said. The replacement would serve until the November 2012 general election and could seek election for the remaining two years of the term.
A candidate becomes ineligible to serve upon final conviction, McGeehan said. So if Crigger were convicted but appealed her case, she could take office while the appeal is resolved.
The Collin County Commissioners Court sets the budget for the district clerk and other elected officials. But commissioners can't fire an elected official or any of his or her staff.
County Judge Keith Self, who heads Commissioners Court, declined to comment on the indictments.
"Because it's a legal issue, I need to be very careful to make no comment," Self said.
Crigger and the other supervisors could not be reached for comment.
"It's really sad it's come to this," said Fred Moses, chairman of the county Republican Party. "She's worked hard for the party."
A judge issued arrest warrants on Friday and set a $5,000 personal recognizance bond for each. All six defendants appeared voluntarily at the Collin County Jail about 12:30 p.m. to be processed, said sheriff's spokesman John Norton. They left about an hour later, he said.
Under state law, a person can hold office while under indictment but can be removed if convicted.
Engaging in organized criminal activity is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
The one-page indictments were returned Thursday against Crigger, Sherry Bell, Rebecca Littrell, Amy Mathis, Lorrie Robertson and Marcia Simpson.
The identical indictments say the women tampered with government records and committed theft by falsifying time and attendance records to show employees were working when they were not.
"This is a dark day for Collin County and its taxpayers," Hays said in a statement Friday. "I hope the legal process reveals the truth and that the integrity of the district clerk's office is restored. I am proud to say that I ran an honest campaign and that I had nothing to do with this investigation."
The six women indicted are among nine supervisors in the district clerk's office, which has 63 employees.
A search warrant affidavit from the Texas Rangers investigation says district clerk employees were asked to assist Crigger's campaign in "various ways, such as walking neighborhoods and holding campaign signs at polling places."
They were rewarded with paid time off, the document says.
It mentions five unnamed district clerk employees who talked with the Rangers during their investigation.
Armed with a search warrant, authorities seized computer hard drives, memory cards, Crigger campaign literature, calendars and other items on June 3.
At the time, Kunkle released a written statement on behalf of her and her office, which is responsible for keeping state district court records. She criticized the execution of the search warrant.
"If they would have come to me directly, I would have turned over anything they wanted and would not have had to close down the district clerk's office, disrupt county business and cause inconvenience to the employees and citizens of Collin County," the statement read.
Kunkle couldn't be reached for comment Friday.
Moses said he hadn't talked to Crigger since she was indicted. "We want to let the legal system take its course," he said.
Moses said he would talk to state Republican Party officials and the Texas secretary of state's office to determine how to pick Crigger's replacement if she doesn't take office.
"We need to see what our options are," Moses said. "We want to do what's in the best interests of the party."
Six supervisors in the Collin County district clerk's office each face two counts of engaging in organized criminal activity in identical indictments handed down Thursday.
Indicted: Patricia Crigger, Sherry Bell, Rebecca Littrell, Amy Mathis, Lorrie Robertson and Marcia Simpson
Count 1: Tampering with a governmental record by making false entries in time and attendance records
Count 2: Theft by obtaining money between $1,500 and $20,000 from Collin County by falsifying time and attendance records
Punishment if convicted: Two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine