Monday, September 17, 2012

Tax collector to get a fair trial on the Brazos?

A sycamore tree of great stature

Passion play or a ceremony of the coin?
Luke 19: 2 ...Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way...
Waco – Criminal District Judge Matt Johnson will be asked today to rule on whether Tax Assessor-Collector Buddy Skeen should be tried in another location.
Can Mr. Skeen get a fair trial here, on the suddenly muddy banks of Jerusalem-on-the-Brazos? He is accused of betraying a public trust to collect taxes fair and square and to accurately account for their disposition. 

A grand jury indicted him for misapplication of a fiduciary property, for which he may be confined in State Jail for not more than 2 years or less than 180 days; giving a false name and false information, also a State Jail felony; and theft by a public servant, a third degree felony punishable by not more than 10 years in the pennitentiary or less than 2 years and a fine of $10,000.
People know quite a bit about his alleged offenses. What they might not know is how they came to light. Allow The Legendary to describe the milieu from which this conundrum sprang.
When The Legendary and sidekick R.S. Gates visited with Steve Moore, who was then the County Auditor, we were only seeking some routine figures we had gone to elaborate lengths to obtain. Our inquiry had nothing to do with Mr. Skeen. 
Without the figures we sought, the story we were working wouldn't have made much sense. That's the way it is when you are dealing with an information poor environment in which public officials use their authority to block your getting at the truth.
There was the by now familiar demand that we fill out a written form for a release of public information, a routine that local officials all seem to think gives them 10 days with which to comply. In the news business, 10 days is long enough to make an item a matter of history while officials consult with the attorneys, perhaps forward the request to the Attorney General's office at Austin.
We still didn't have our figures. 
We were getting nowhere fast. The cue was to move on, find something else to write about, give up, go away.
Mr. Moore became quite upset when we pointed this out to him. He asked, “Just how many live microphones do I have on me right now?”
We told him we had no live mikes, that we were not recording anything. In fact, Mr. Gates removed the battery from his phone, and The Legendary had not acquired any such fancy equipment in those days.
Mr. Moore was only a few days away from retirement. He was clearly terrified, afraid of answering any questions about anything. In fact, he was very nearly tongue-tied.
His staff members were even more upset. They were positively shrill.
Mr. Moore's replacement, who was hired and vetted by the District Judges of McLennan County as prescribed by constitutional and statutory law, discovered Mr. Skeen's apparently illegal activity within days of taking over.
While looking over some forms concerning the application of trade-in value of a county-owned vehicle, Stan Chambers discovered the sum had been applied to a personal vehicle Mr. Skeen acquired the very next day after the trade-in of the county's vehicle.
I couldn't believe what I had found,” he said. “I had to call my assistant in here to look at the evidence. I asked her, 'Is this what I think it is? Is this really what it means?' She looked it over and said, 'Yes, it is. You're right.'”
He still appears somewhat astounded when he discusses the matter.
When told about Mr. Moore's intense suspicion he was being recorded surreptitiously, he suddenly got one of “so that's what it was all about” looks on his face.
He thought for a moment, then told The Legendary, “You know, when I moved in this office, I found a large number of small tape recorders in this middle drawer.” He pointed to the massive desk assigned to the County Auditor. “None of them had any tapes in them. In fact, I found no tapes anywhere in this office.”

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