Documents in a lawsuit claim McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara broke campaign finance laws and retaliated against a supporter of his political opponent by trying to block him from getting a job as a local police chief.
While the sheriff and McLennan County are being sued on allegations that McNamara fired or demoted nine deputies for their support of former Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Randy Plemons in the 2012 Republican primary, other allegations have surfaced in documents filed in the lawsuit.
In an 80-page response to the county’s motion for summary judgment, Dallas attorney Don Tittle, who represents the nine plaintiffs, says deposition testimony in the lawsuit shows that McNamara improperly covered up the identity of a $1,000 donor to his campaign because the man said he didn’t want to get involved publicly in the hotly contested primary.
Senior U.S. District Judge James Nowlin, of Austin, ordered the parties to try to resolve the lawsuit through mediation. But that attempt failed after an all-day mediation session Wednesday.
The previous day, Nowlin denied a motion from McNamara and the county to throw out the lawsuit, paving the way for the trial of the case to begin Feb. 18 in Austin.
McNamara did not return phone messages last week and Waco attorney Mike Dixon, who represents the sheriff and the county, declined comment because of the pending litigation.
McNamara has said that, as the newly elected sheriff, he has the right to organize his office and top command as he chooses. He said his decisions were made based on the deputies’ past job performances and reputations, not political retribution.
Tittle also declined comment because of the upcoming trial.
Court records show that Kevin Ferguson, who supported McNamara’s campaign, was promoted two ranks to sergeant after McNamara was elected despite the fact that he never applied for the job, never told anyone he wanted to be sergeant and had never served in a supervisory role before.
McNamara’s campaign finance reports show that Ferguson donated Dallas Cowboys tickets valued at $1,000 to McNamara’s campaign to be auctioned off at a fund raiser, although lawsuit documents show that McNamara testified in a deposition that the tickets were donated by Parsons Roofing, and Ferguson just delivered them to him.
“Kevin Ferguson testified that the Cowboys tickets were not his and they were ‘funneled’ through him at the request of the tickets’ owner, Stuart Parsons Jr., who did not want his name publicly tied to the McNamara campaign,” Tittle wrote in his response to the county’s motion for summary judgment. “Ferguson told McNamara that Parsons did not want his name associated with the campaign, so Ferguson was going to put the tickets through his own name.”
Later, McNamara told his campaign manager, Sarilee Ferguson, who is no relation to Kevin Ferguson, that Kevin Ferguson was donating the tickets and to list them in Ferguson’s name on campaign finance reports, according to court documents.
Sarilee Ferguson said in her deposition, according to the response, that she “understood that it is illegal for a campaign to try to cover up the true identity of the donor by putting the donation in another person’s name,” Tittle wrote.
Sarilee Ferguson said last week that she was not aware that Parsons had donated the tickets until “long after the fact” and possibly not until the lawsuit was filed.
Parsons said last week that “we don’t get into politics. There were tickets given to someone that used them for Parnell’s campaign to help raise money so the fine people of McLennan County can have a great sheriff, and that’s what we got.”
He added that his company, Parsons Roofing, supports various causes by donating six tickets to its Cowboys suite for every event at the stadium.
Dixon’s 20-page response to the plaintiffs’ summary judgment response does not address the allegations.
Another deputy who supported McNamara, Mark Ramburger, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked during his deposition if he made any financial contributions to McNamara’s campaign under anyone’s name other than his own, according to court documents.
“Ramburger also pleaded the Fifth Amendment to questions about how much money he had donated to the McNamara campaign, whether he had donated anything of value other than money to the Mc Namara campaign, whether he had donated anything of value other than money to the McNamara campaign in his own name or in someone else’s name, and the identity of anyone in the McNamara campaign who would have known of any contributions that Ramburger might have made under someone else’s name,” the court record states.
Natalia Ashley, an attorney for the Texas Ethics Commission, said election laws prohibit someone from making a political contribution in the name of or on behalf of another unless the person discloses in writing to the recipient the name and address of the person actually making the contribution so the proper disclosure can be made.
A violation of the law can be a Class A misdemeanor, with local prosecutors having jurisdiction. Or it can become a civil matter and the Texas Election Commission can impose a fine up to $500 per violation if it receives a complaint, Ashley said.
Tittle’s response also claims that McNamara visited Lacy Lakeview City Manager Kevin Bond two days after McNamara won the November 2012 general election and warned him that “neither he nor any member of his staff would ever work with John Truehitt.”
Truehitt, who retired from the FBI after 25 years, supported Plemons and had been told that he would be chief deputy if Plemons had won the election. After Plemons lost, Truehitt applied for the police chief’s job in Lacy Lakeview.
“Bond told Truehitt it was about an email that McNamara claimed Truehitt’s wife had sent, and Truehitt’s involvement in the primary campaign supporting Plemons,” Tittle wrote in the response.
Bond, who did not return phone calls last week, offered Truehitt the job later that month and he accepted.