McLennan County Commissioner Will Jones, who remains under a bribery investigation, started his second term in office Tuesday by filing his oath of office and a sworn “anti-bribery” statement.
Jones acknowledged in January that he offered to reimburse his Republican primary opponent, Ben Matus, the cost of his filing fee if Matus would withdraw from the race.
Eight months later, McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna asked the Texas Rangers to investigate if Jones’ offer constitutes a criminal act, recused his office and asked a judge to appoint Assistant Attorney General Amy Cadwell to handle “all matters relating to the involvement” of Jones “in the alleged bribery or attempted bribery in McLennan County.”
Jones responded to questions Tuesday about his oath and accompanying anti-bribery statement by repeating the same eight words three times.
“I signed the oath because it is true,” Jones said, repeating it twice before adding, “and that is all I am going to say about the issue.”
He declined to say if he thinks he has opened the door to a possible perjury charge by filing the sworn documents.
Jones defeated Matus, an auto repair instructor at Texas State Technical College, in the primary with 56 percent of the vote and won 83 percent of the vote in the general election against Libertarian challenger David Reichert in November.
As part of their oaths of office, county and state officials are required to file what is known as an anti-bribery statement, which says, in part, that they have not “directly or indirectly paid, offered, promised to pay, contributed or promised to contribute any money or thing of value, or promised any public office or employment for the giving or withholding of a vote at the election at which I was elected or as a reward to secure my appointment or confirmation.”
Jones talked to the Tribune-Herald in August about the oath, saying, “I still feel comfortable taking the oath. I don’t have any problem with the oath whatsoever.”
Attorney general’s office spokeswoman Kayleigh Lovvorn said she could not discuss the case Tuesday “as we do not comment on ongoing investigations.”
Texas Ranger Patrick Pena, who was investigating the matter after Cadwell was assigned, did not return a phone message Tuesday.
Matus taped his phone conversations with Jones and saved text messages from him, which he shared with the Tribune-Herald. He declined comment Tuesday.
Jones acknowledged in January that he offered Matus a personal refund of his $1,250 filing fee if Matus would withdraw from the race.
Matus did not report the offer to authorities but posted his exchange with Jones, which he recorded on his cellphone, on his campaign Facebook page.
Matus said last year that Jones texted him several times and called him in December 2015.
“He was serious. He offered to pay me to drop out of the race,” Matus said at the time. “He kind of blindsided me. He told me I was wasting my time and money, and I kind of got agitated. It is my time and my money. He said it is a losing cause, but it made me want to run against him even more.”
Jones said in January he doesn’t think his offer constitutes a bribe, calling it a “simple business transaction.”
“I did say that I would refund his money and I told him that would be a good idea for him,” Jones said at the time. “There is no way it could be considered a bribe. There is nothing wrong about it.”
After Matus said he was told that his filing fee was not refundable, Jones said on the recording, “I will refund your money. My wife and I have talked about this, and if you want out, I will refund your money.”
Matus also has a text message sent by Jones on Dec. 15, 2015, that says: “You can still withdraw your name today. My offer still stands.”
Jones said Tuesday that he doesn’t think the bribery investigation has been dropped and confirmed that he has hired Fort Worth attorney Jeff Kearney to assist Waco attorneys Jim Dunnam and Thomas West in his defense.
West and Dunnam declined comment Tuesday. Kearney did not return a phone message to his office.
Kearney represented longtime McLennan County Tax Assessor-Collector Buddy Skeen, who pleaded guilty in 2012 to five felony counts involving misuse of county property and vehicles. Skeen served six months in jail before starting a 10-year probation term.
According to the Texas Penal Code, a person commits the offense of bribery if he intentionally or knowingly offers, confers, or agrees to confer on another, or solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept from another any benefit as consideration for the recipient’s decision, opinion, recommendation, vote or other exercise of discretion as a public servant, party official or voter.
A political candidate is considered a public servant under Texas law.
Bribery is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Attempted bribery is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.