Top aides accuse Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of bribery, abusing office

Top aides of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have asked federal law enforcement authorities to investigate allegations of improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential crimes against the state’s top lawyer.

In a one-page letter to the state agency’s director of human resources, obtained Saturday by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, seven executives in the upper tiers of the office said that they are seeking the investigation into Paxton “in his official capacity as the current Attorney General of Texas.”

The Thursday letter said that each “has knowledge of facts relevant to these potential offenses and has provided statements concerning those facts to the appropriate law enforcement.”

Paxton, a 57-year-old Republican, was first elected in 2014. His office said in a statement Saturday evening: “The complaint filed against Attorney General Paxton was done to impede an ongoing investigation into criminal wrongdoing by public officials including employees of this office. Making false claims is a very serious matter and we plan to investigate this to the fullest extent of the law.”

The statement did not elaborate.

The letter to human resources was signed by Paxton’s first assistant, Jeff Mateer, who resigned Friday, and Mateer’s deputy Ryan Bangert. It is also signed by James Blake Brickman, Lacey Mase, Darren McCarty, Mark Penley and Ryan Vassar, who are deputy attorneys general overseeing the divisions of policy, administration, civil litigation, criminal investigations and legal counsel.

“We have a good faith belief that the attorney general is violating federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses,” the letter states.

Their decisions to report possible illegal activity involving their employer represents a stunning development in an agency that prizes loyalty, particularly from within Paxton’s inner circle. It places a renewed spotlight on Paxton, who is already under indictment for alleged securities fraud.

The complaint concluded by saying that they notified Paxton in a text message Thursday that they had reported the alleged violations to law enforcement.

The whistleblowers, who notified human resources to protect their jobs, offered no other details about the allegations and did not describe what they believe Paxton did that was illegal. Efforts to reach them were unsuccessful Saturday.

Mateer’s inclusion in the complaint letter, and his departure as Paxton’s second in command, was particularly significant, coming from a political ally who shared a conservative Christian perspective on many social and legal issues.

When President Donald Trump tapped Mateer to become a federal judge in 2017, Paxton lauded him as “a principled leader — a man of character — who has done an outstanding job for the State of Texas.”

Mateer’s nomination was later withdrawn after revelations of anti-LGBT remarks, including calling transgender children part of “Satan’s plan.”

Mateer has told colleagues that he is leaving the government to rejoin a Plano-based conservative nonprofit law firm helping to nominate judges to federal courts, The Dallas Morning News reported Friday. Mateer worked for the First Liberty Institute prior to joining Paxton’s office.

Paxton has been operating under a separate legal cloud since the summer of 2015, when he was indicted on three felony counts related to private business deals in 2011 and 2012. Seven months after being sworn in for his first four-year term as attorney general, Paxton was arrested, booked into Collin County Jail and quickly released on a no-money bond.

He has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence and dismissed the charges as a political attack from those who oppose his strong conservative principles.

“Don’t believe the attacks on me,” Paxton said in a 2016 video released by his campaign. “They aren’t true, and I am going to fight them.”

The most serious charge, two counts of securities fraud, was related to Paxton’s efforts to solicit investors in Servergy Inc. without revealing that the McKinney tech company was paying him for the work. The first-degree felonies carry a maximum of 99 years in prison.

He also was charged with failing to register with state securities regulators while conducting other investment business, a third-degree felony with a maximum 10-year sentence.

Paxton has aggressively fought the charges, and the criminal case has been delayed by numerous appeals and legal wrangling from defense lawyers and prosecutors.

There still is no trial date set.

Paxton also was accused of fraud related to the Servergy venture in a civil complaint by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2016. A federal judge, however, dismissed the complaint, ruling that federal securities law didn’t require Paxton to tell potential investors about his deal with Servergy.

Still, the SEC filing provided most of the public details about Paxton’s involvement with Servergy.

According to the SEC, Servergy paid Paxton with 100,000 shares of the company’s stock, worth $1 a share, for his work in lining up $840,000 in investments — a sum that represented 32% of all Servergy investments in 2011.

Two of those investors were mentioned in the Collin County indictments — state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who has since left office, and Florida businessman Joel Hochberg, both of whom belonged to an investment club that included Paxton.

Responding to the criminal charges resulting from his Servergy involvement, Paxton has argued that his actions were not illegal, and he has accused prosecutors of stretching the definition of fraud beyond its legal meaning. Paxton also blamed his legal trouble on political opponents, particularly moderate Republicans in Collin County and the Legislature.

Running for reelection in 2018 against a Democratic opponent who made the indictments a centerpiece of the campaign, Paxton was given a second term with 50.6% of the vote.

But even as Republicans swept, yet again, every statewide office, Paxton’s 3.6-point victory over Democrat Justin Nelson was the closest statewide race for state office on the ballot.

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