AUSTIN (KXAN) — Embattled State Rep. Dawnna Dukes is officially facing criminal charges, accused of tampering with government records and abuse of official capacity.
The Travis County District Attorney and Texas Rangers presented the evidence before a grand jury on Tuesday; the indictments on three counts were returned later that day. In response, Dukes, D-Austin, posted on her Facebook page Wednesday morning stating “I am disappointed but I expected that if I was sworn into office in January 10th that this indictment would follow.”
The first indictment includes 13 felony charges on the offense of tampering with a governmental record. The DA’s Ofice says these charges are based on allegations that Dukes made false entries on 13 different occasions on Stae of Texas travel vouchers, in order to obtain reimbursement for expenses to which she was not legally entitled. Dukes’ attorney Shaun Clarke says the charges accuse his client of claiming a reimbursement in the amount of $61.50 to which she allegedly was not entitled; the 13 counts total $799.50.
Two separate indictments were for misdemeanor offenses of abuse of official capacity by a public servant. The charges relate to allegations that Dukes misused public funds for her personal gain, and that she converted campaign funds to personal use.
On Wednesday around 2:15 p.m., Dukes walked up to the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center flanked by her two attorneys to turn herself in. Before going through the booking process, Dukes made a few remarks.
“I will focus my time and my energy on the people of District 46 and their issues and concerns in the Texas House of Representative during the 85th Legislature,” said Dukes. “I do not intend at all to allow anyone to get me distracted [including the media] because the children of texas and Child Protective Services deserve to have my attention. They deserve to have my expertise, they deserve to have me continue to fight for them.”
Dukes says she plans on entering a plea of not guilty at her next official court appearance scheduled for March 9.
“For 22 years, Dawnna has been fighting for the rights of others in the legislature and now she’s fighting for herself,” said Clarke.
In a news release, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said, “I commend the Texas Rangers for their thorough investigation and professional approach to this case. The Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit will continue to work with them, and every other law enforcement agency, to ensure that public officials are held accountable when they fail to abide by the laws of this state.”
Dukes appearance at the swearing-in ceremony on the House floor last week was unexpected because she said in September that she would resign her House District 46 seat on Jan. 10, 2017. She said before the November election that she was stepping down because of health issues relating to a car crash from 2013. She was basically absent from the 2015 legislative session, saying health issues from the accident caused her to miss days at work.
But, the weekend before the start of the session, Dukes notified the Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore that she won’t be stepping down from her seat.
If convicted on the felony charges, Dukes can spend up to two years in jail and be levied a fine of up to $10,000. If convicted on the misdemeanor charges, she can be sentenced up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000 for each charge.
Candidates Who Want Dukes’ Seat
There are currently five people who are vying for House District 46 and all appear to still be moving forward with their campaigns.
“We have a saying in the black community: Got to represent,” said former Austin Mayor Pro-tem Sheryl Cole. “So few of us actually get an opportunity to represent, at the level of power and influence that this race has opened up previously and now closed down.”
Chito Vela said, “East Austin needs a progressive voice that will fight for the interests of working class voters.”
Gabriel Nila, the only GOP candidate going for the seat, knew he had an uphill battle in a district that typically votes at least 80 percent Democrat. “Our concern, mine and several other people, is that she will do the exact same thing that she did in 2015—make a couple of appearances here and there, but not take care of the issues that need taking care of,” said Nila.
For lesser known contender Nnamdi Orakwue, he says he’s also in the race for the long haul but believes Cole isn’t the answer either. “A fresh start in HD46 requires more than just passing the torch from one establishment politician (Dawnna Dukes) to a better one (Sheryl Cole),” said Orakwue in an emailed response to KXAN News. “Democrats in HD46 and in the state of Texas need new ideas and new strategies in these troubled political times.”