Texas State Representative Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) has reportedly been indicted on 13 felony counts of corruption. She is also accused of two misdemeanors.
The indictment of the Austin-based state representative was handed down by a Travis County grand jury on Tuesday, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday morning. Dukes faces 13 felony counts of tampering with public records. Dukes is also facing two misdemeanor counts of abuse of official capacity. If convicted on all counts, Dukes could face up to 28 years in a Texas prison.
Dukes acknowledged the indictments with a comment on her Facebook page.
“Of course, I am disappointed but I expected that if I was sworn into office in January 10th that this indictment would follow,” she wrote. “All I can say today is that I will be entering a plea of Not Guilty.” Her Facebook friends were quick to send messages of support.
In September, the then-11 term representative announced she would be stepping down for “health reasons” amid the ongoing criminal investigation. She said she would let her term expire rather than resign immediately.
“Dukes is allowing her current term to expire rather than resigning immediately, allowing her to make an extra $3,220 per year in retirement benefits from the state because serving any amount in January counts as a full year when calculating pension benefits,” the Statesman reported at the time. By finishing her term, Dukes will receive an additional $3,220 per year in retirement benefits from Texas taxpayers.
The Texas state representative reversed course on January 7 and announced that she would not step down and would be sworn in for her 12th term, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office told the Statesman.
A Fort Worth defense attorney who had been representing Dukes prior to the announcement said he did not advise her to continue on as a legislator.
“That was not my advice to her,” attorney Michael Heiskill said. When asked by the Statesman if he was still her attorney, he responded, “Apparently not.”
Dukes said she had overcome her “health issues.”
The indictments appear to involve Dukes’ use of legislative staff for personal purposes. The Statesman reported, as part of its own year-long investigation into Dukes’ activities, that she had arranged to give “a taxpayer-funded raise to an aid” to ostensibly cover the aid’s gas money used while driving Dukes’ daughter to and from school.
Other issues surrounded questionable expenses on campaign finance reports, the Austin newspaper reported. Dukes reportedly stands accused of converting campaign expenditures to personal use. Those expenditures were earmarked for the African-American Community Heritage Festival. The 18-year annual event co-founded by Dukes was ended after the investigation by the Statesman shed negative light on the program.
The Statesman’s investigation revealed that Dukes has listed “at least $17,600 in campaign expenditures for the festival, including $303 to an electronics store for ‘replacement of digital camera broken by staff,’ $146 for Mardi Gras beads and more than $7,000 for musical performers.”
The 13 felony counts for tampering with public records involve allegations that Dukes collected pay during the 2014 legislative interim period for days that she did not travel to the Capitol, the article states. Texas House rules require the representative to be present in order to file for the per diem payments. A May article by the Statesman revealed accusations by a former Dukes staffer that Dukes had filed for these payments for days that she did not travel to the Capitol and “may have not worked at all.”
Dukes also made news in the fall of 2014 when she mocked then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s disability. Speaking during a gubernatorial campaign event for Democrat candidate Wendy Davis, Dukes said, “we have this guy who just kind of rolls around thinking that he can get tort reform for himself but take it away from everybody else in the state of Texas,” Breitbart Texas reported. Abbott was paralyzed from the waist down after a tree fell on him while running in Houston. He has been confined to a wheelchair since the accident. In a YouTube video posted in the article, the crowd can be heard laughing at her “rolls around” comment.
In her Facebook response, Dukes wrote, “On the advice of my attorneys, I have not spoken on any of the allegations since February 2016. As well, since this is now a case in court, on the advice of my attorneys, I will continue to have no further comment.”
Dukes did not announce if she will resign her current position as a representative for Texas House District 46.