AUSTIN (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis’ legal work for a taxpayer-funded tollway agency is part of a larger FBI-led investigation into the tollway group, according to a published report Friday.
The Dallas Morning News used a freedom of information request to learn of the ongoing investigation, and then confirmed it with Elizabeth Winn, an assistant Travis County attorney. The FBI hasn’t responded to the newspaper’s request for comment.
The investigation stems from a conflict of interest complaint filed in 2012 by former state Rep. Mark Shelton, a Republican who ran against Davis for her Fort Worth state senate seat. In the complaint, Shelton says Davis was voting on toll legislation while her firm represented North Texas Tollway Authority.
Investigators for the Public Integrity Unit, which is housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office, reviewed Shelton’s complaint last year but closed the case without taking any action.
When the newspaper filed a request for documents used in that investigation, however, prosecutors cited an ongoing federal investigation among the reasons the documents couldn’t be released. The newspaper said it wasn’t clear if Davis’ legal work for the tollway authority is the focus or only part of the materials collected into the tollway agency’s operations.
Davis has long said her legal work didn’t interfere with her state Senate duties. Davis spokesman Zac Petkanas told the newspaper that the FBI hadn’t questioned Davis as part of its investigation.
Petkanas said Davis was informed last August by her legal counsel that others were interested in the information gathered in the Travis County investigation, but he added she wasn’t aware the investigation was being done by the FBI until contacted by the newspaper.
“We have no reason to believe that Wendy Davis is the subject or target of any investigation,” Petkanas said in an emailed statement Friday.
Last week, the newspaper published a story that reviewed Davis’ Senate voting record and found she had supported legislation governing a toll road project for which the North Texas Tollway Authority hired her law firm, Newby Davis, which she started with Gov. Rick Perry’s former chief of staff, Brian Newby.
The newspaper also found that Davis backed changes surrounding the collection of unpaid tolls that preceded a program in which law firms — including Davis’ — were chosen to carry out the collections.
The North Texas Tollway Authority first divulged in 2011 that the FBI was investigating potential conflicts of interest among current and former board members. Davis doesn’t serve on the authority’s board. No one has been charged.
Davis is facing Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott in the race to succeed Perry. Abbott’s campaign said Friday that the newspaper’s story is “both shocking and unsurprising at the same time.”
“Sen. Davis must fully disclose the facts about any wrongdoing and the extent of her involvement in that wrongdoing,” Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said in a statement.
Petkanas responded that “Abbott knows this is an old political charge that was started by Wendy Davis’ opponent in the 2012 campaign and that anyone who looks at this matter will conclude that Wendy Davis has always fought in the best interest of her constituents.”
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