Five employees with the Government Accountability Office, and one GAO employee’s spouse, were indicted Tuesday for working to illegally obtain reduced-price lunches for their children.
The indictment resulted from the legislative branch agency’s own investigation into the school meals program, which found some of the GAO’s employees applied for the program and underreported their income to gain access to the reduced-price lunches. After the agency discovered the illegal activity, the GAO reported applications to the agency’s inspector general.
“There is no excuse for stealing funds intended to go to children whose parents cannot afford the school lunches,” Maryland’s Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said in a news release announcing the indictment. “Their actions are made even worse by the fact that some of them claimed to have not just low income, but no income at all, even though they were working full-time jobs at the GAO.”
Now I know that most kids being fed under this program need it -- certainly at the school where I teach, located in an area with a high level of poverty. But I also know that there are some kids -- including, I do not doubt, kids at my school -- whose parents under-report income to qualify the kids for free or reduced lunches.
And if a school with 2000 kids receives 1500 applications, is it really feasible for all of those applications to be thoroughly checked over the course of the first six weeks of school? Not really -- hence these well-paid federal employees trying to get benefits they didn't qualify for -- because they knew the likelihood of their being caught was close to zero.
When Tom Delay was indicted on trumped-up charges by grand jury shopping partisan DA Ronnie Earle, I defended my Congressman, even though he turned around and betrayed CD22 Republicans by dropping out of the race and handing his congressional seat to a Democrat. DeLay was ultimately vindicated on appeal.
When Rick Perry was indicted last year, I stood by him despite the fact that I had become disenchanted with him over the course of his time in office. The charges were clearly an effort to criminalize political differences, and the bulk of legal scholars who have commented on the issue have deemed the charges to be constitutional nonsense. A recent appellate decision threw out one of the charges as facially invalid and indicated that a conviction on the second charge would likely not survive an appeal.
But this week Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted on various charges related to failure to register as an investment adviser and his failure to disclose that he was receiving commissions on investment advice he gave and that he was not an investor in the company he was touting. Despite having endorsed Paxton in last year's primary and having previously worked to get him endorsed by Harris County Republicans to oust House Speaker Joe Straus, I'm not backing Paxton on this one. I believe that Ken Paxton needs to resign from office.
Now you may ask, why the difference in this case. The reason is simple -- Paxton has already essentially admitted to these charges. He agreed to a reprimand and paid a fine to settle an investigation by the Texas State Securities Board (PDF file here). There is therefore no question of Paxton's guilt, and the proper response to this indictment is his resignation. If Paxton wants to fight the matter out in court, so be it -- but his continued presence in office is every bit as offensive as is the continuance of of Rosemary Lehmberg in office as Travis County DA following her arrest on DUI charges and her attempt to use her office to avoid charges.
There is also another aspect to these charges that differs from the DeLay and Perry cases. A recent change in Texas law took this case out of the hands of the Travis County DA and instead handed it to prosecutors and grand juries in Paxton's home county. I hate to cite John Cobarruvias, the death threat making Democrat over at Bay Area Houston, but his observation is essentially correct on this one.
Because of a law passed by the Republican controlled legislature, Paxton's case was transferred to his home county, Collin County. They are redder than a college freshman's eyes after pledging Tappa Keg Aminute. The Grand Jury from this county indicted him. The Judge presiding over the investigation, a Republican, recused himself and appointed two special prosecutors, both Republican. The case was investigated by the Texas Rangers, a bastion of Republicans.
These charges are not about political differences. They are not being brought by a grand jury packed with Democrats at the behest of a Democrat DA, nor will they be heard by a Democrat judge with a history of opposing Paxton. Those involved in it are all Republicans, and this involves clear personal and professional misconduct. And as noted above, Ken Patton has already admitted to the offense in an official document agreeing to settle the administrative charges.
Here's hoping that whoever replaces Paxton is a more honest individual.