Ethics Case Against Texas Lawmaker Goes to Jury

AUSTIN — Prosecutors asked a jury Tuesday to send a message about transparency in government by convicting a South Texas lawmaker they allege sold access to the Legislature.

A Travis County jury began deliberating the fate of state Rep. Kino Flores, 52, who is charged with nine counts of tampering with a government record and two counts of perjury. He faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

“What he was really doing is selling the power of his office,” Travis County Assistant District Attorney Gregg Cox said. “He was selling his influence.”

Attorneys for Flores, who has served in the Legislature since 1996, denied allegations of bribery and ridiculed what they described as a thin criminal case hinging on clerical errors in required financial filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Perry Minton, one of Flores’ attorneys, became emotional during closing arguments while telling jurors the toll the allegations have put on the veteran legislator.

“Where does he go back to get his reputation?” Minton said. “He has been dragged through the Valley, through the newspapers for five years. You guys are the final gatekeepers. It is up to y’all to say it stops here.”

The jury must sort through a week of testimony from Flores’ son, a prominent ethics attorney and a businessman convicted of Medicaid fraud to decide whether Flores intentionally omitted income sources and property from required financial statements.

Among the most severe allegations is whether Flores, the former chairman of an influential House committee that oversees gambling and liquor interests, accepted money in exchange for legislative considerations.

The key witness for prosecutors was a former Rio Grande Valley clinic owner who testified that he essentially bribed Flores before being convicted of scamming Medicaid of more than $4 million. Eliseo Sandoval, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence, said he paid Flores under the guise of hiring the lawmaker to help a fledging deer-breeding and ranch business.

Prosecutors say monthly $3,500 payments were really for favors that included Flores sponsoring an amendment to a 2003 state Medicaid bill that exempted Sandoval’s clinics from costly new HMO regulations.

Minton called Sandoval a “sociopathic liar” who invented a story about Kino Flores Jr. writing legislation for Sandoval’s business as a college student.

Cox ended his case by saying Flores Jr. made a key slip-up of his own on the witness stand — describing deer as having “horns” instead of antlers.

The Flores family — including Flores Jr. — laughed in the gallery. Later, the elder Flores mockingly mimed antlers over his head with his hands.

“This thing about deer management. Really?” prosecutor Susan Oswalt told jurors. “Why on earth would he need Rep. Flores to figure out how to breed deer?”

Prosecutors say their office did not have the power in Travis County to bring charges of bribery. Instead, they said Flores intentionally omitted employers from his personal financial disclosures, thereby obscuring transparency required of elected leaders.

Among the employers Flores failed to disclose, prosecutors say, was an engineering firm with state contracts for road construction. Flores is also accused of not reporting a home from the LaMantia family, which owns a beer distributorship in the Rio Grande Valley and has racing interests.

Minton said Flores, who is not running for re-election, simply made innocent mistakes while filling out the financial statements. In other cases, Minton said, Flores was working not as an employee but as a consultant, and as such was not required to list his clients.

Scores of lawmakers unknowingly make the same mistakes on their financial forms, Minton said, and asked jurors to consider that the Texas Ethics Commission never confronte1d Flores about the mistakes.

Minton told the jury that Flores should have taken better care to make sure his disclosure statements were correctly filled out. But that oversight isn’t criminal, he said.

“It’s a mistake, still,” Minton said. “And it’s not something he should go to jail for.”

Renowned legal expert with significant experience in Civil Law, Criminal Defense, and Family Law. Graduate of The University of Texas School of Law, and admitted to the bar in Texas and U.S. District Court Western District of Texas. Active member of esteemed legal associations including the Texas Bar Association and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Association.