Reform group's criminal complaint alleges Dewhurst concealing assets
R.G. Ratcliffe - Houston Chronicle
AUSTIN - Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for four years rode the range on his 1,800-acre Snaffle Bit Ranch near Fredericksburg, but a reform group complains that isn't made clear in the personal financial disclosure statements he files with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Millionaire Dewhurst lists the majority of his assets as the David Dewhurst Trust in his state filings.
And that prompted a government reform group Wednesday to file a criminal complaint against Dewhurst with Travis County Attorney David Escamilla alleging he failed to properly disclose assets.
"The Dewhurst Trust is blind to the public, but not to the lieutenant governor," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a government reform group. "One of the most powerful state officials should not be allowed to hide his assets from the public."
State law requires a filing candidate or officeholder to disclose the source of any income of more than $500 a year. Failure to do so is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of a $2,000 fine and 180 days in jail.
Dewhurst has claimed that the various sources of his income are co-mingled, so he does not know the source of his money.
"The people of Texas deserve to know whether elected officials are performing their duties with integrity and in the people's best interest," Dewhurst said in a statement Wednesday.
"Since I was first elected to public office, for the past 10 years I have consistently followed the advice of my expert legal counsel in filling out and filing my political financial statement to fully comply with the letter and spirit of the law, and it is a fact I do not know the assets in my trust from which I have received income in excess of $500," Dewhurst said.
Escamilla said Wednesday he has begun a review of the complaint.
The Houston Chronicle first raised the issue of Dewhurst's nondisclosure in 2002 and then again in 2007.
Dewhurst formed his trust after reporters and opposition researchers dug into his finances during his 1998 race for land commissioner. Aides at that time described it as a blind trust.
After the 2007 legislative session, Dewhurst's trust was an issue because a utility company hired former Public Utility Commission Chairman Dennis Thomas to lobby Dewhurst on electricity deregulation.
Thomas had worked as a consultant for Falcon Seaboard Holding Co. several years before. Dewhurst founded Falcon, but his ownership of the company is not mentioned in his financial disclosures. Because Falcon is a privately held company, little information can be found about the company directly.
Dewhurst reports also have never disclosed that the holding company has owned Falcon Seaboard Ranches, which in turn owned the Snaffle Bit Ranch. Dewhurst often was photographed at the ranch and did some media interviews there.
Dewhurst spokesman Rich Parsons said the ranch was broken up and sold in 2006. Gillespie County records show the sale occurred in November 2006.
The Web site for the ranch on Wednesday still showed it in the Falcon Seaboard Ranches family and featured a photograph of Dewhurst in cowboy gear saddling a horse.
Tax records in Bastrop County show Falcon Seaboard purchased 411 acres about the time of the Snaffle Bit sale. The property had an agricultural market value of $5.5 million. The Bastrop property also is not included in Dewhurst's financial disclosure statements.
A new controversy over Dewhurst's trust was prompted by a recent Associated Press report detailing some of Dewhurst's other holdings that have gone unreported.
State law was changed in 2003 to require greater disclosure of both blind trusts and regular trusts held by candidates and officeholders.
Dewhurst's trust is now listed on his reports under trust income of $25,000 or more. He has checked the box that says "unknown" for "assets from which over $500 was received."