Two former top-ranking officials with the Hill County Sheriff’s Office pleaded guilty Friday for their roles in an officer-licensing scheme that also resulted in the sheriff being indicted and suspended from office.
Former Chief Deputy Mark Wilson pleaded guilty to four counts of tampering with governmental records, and former Capt. Leroy Rodriguez pleaded guilty to three counts of tampering with governmental records, state-jail felony charges stemming from a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement investigation.
Visiting Judge James Morgan approved plea bargains in each man’s case, sentencing both to deferred probation for three years and ordering both to surrender their law enforcement certification and licenses.
The men also were fined $3,000 and agreed to testify against suspended Hill County Sheriff Michael J. Cox, who pleaded not guilty Friday and is set for trial Dec. 15.
As part of the plea agreement, special prosecutor David Deaconson, a Waco attorney appointed to handle the cases after Hill County District Attorney Mark Pratt recused his office, dismissed other counts against each former officer.
If each lives up to the terms of probation, neither will have final convictions on their records but they will never be police officers again.
“Truthfully, the way he was treated by law enforcement and politically singled out, he has no interest in being a police officer again,” said Waxahachie attorney Mark Griffith, who represents Gonzalez. “This has left a very bad taste in his mouth with regard to the service he provided to the community and where he is now.”
Griffith said he thinks others were involved in the scandal who were not punished because they weren’t as outspoken as his client.
Rodriguez, 35, was charged with providing his personal username and password to jailer Bryan Winget or others, who reportedly completed a portion of the basic county jailer’s certification course in Rodriguez’s name. He also was charged with submitting false records to the Texas Commission On Law Enforcement.
TCOLE is the state agency charged with training and licensing peace officers.
Winget, 27, also was arrested in April on one count of breach of computer security. But he was not indicted because he merely was doing what his superiors ordered him to do, Deaconson said Friday.
Deaconson rejected Griffith’s notion that politics played a role in the officers’ prosecutions.
“The initial investigation stemmed out of Austin, everybody up here recused themselves and I was appointed,” Deaconson said. “I have no political dog in any hunt up here. It has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with what happened and what needed to be done.”
Wilson, 61, was charged with submitting notarized county jailer appointment applications without an original signature of the TCOLE chief administrator “with the intent that it be taken as a genuine governmental record containing accurate and truthful information.”
Wilson’s attorney, Jim Lane, of Fort Worth, said Wilson, a former Forth Worth police officer, is an honorable man and it hurts him to have to surrender his peace officer’s license.
“It is pretty obvious Mark made some mistakes and was willing to and, in fact, admitted that he committed some mistakes and he is willing to accept punishment for it,” Lane said.
Lane also dismissed outright that politics were involved in Wilson’s prosecution.
“No. That’s nonsense. He just made a mistake,” he said.
Dallas attorney Pete Schulte, who represents Cox, said the suspended sheriff looks forward to getting back to work.
“He didn’t do anything wrong,” Schulte said. “He looks forward to having his day in court, where he can show the citizens of Hill County he didn’t commit these crimes. He looks forward to being acquitted and getting back to work.”
Cox, 39, is charged with misusing his office by coercing an employee to prepare papers and to assist him with a test he was taking for college criminal justice courses.
Removed from office
Cox, a former Hillsboro police officer who became sheriff in January 2013, was removed from office temporarily by court order after his arrest.
He was indicted on charges alleging two counts of tampering with governmental records, abuse of official capacity and breach of computer security, all state-jail felonies punishable by up to two years behind bars.
According to the four-count indictment against Cox, he is charged with “requesting or directing” a sheriff’s office employee to prepare papers for him in February 2014, March 2014, April 2014, September 2014 and December 2014 for a college criminal justice class he was taking.
Cox also got the employee to help him take a test in November 2014 and to prepare a PowerPoint presentation in December 2014, the indictment alleges.
The second count charges the sheriff with using the TCOLE data distribution system to obtain a telecommunicator’s license that he reportedly knew to be fraudulent.
The final count alleges that Cox accessed the TCOLE database and, as an authorized test proctor, submitted his allegedly falsified state licensing exam.