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Denton County sheriff under investigation

Profile image for By Jeff Mosier / The Dallas Morning News
By Jeff Mosier / The Dallas Morning News

The Denton County sheriff is under investigation over allegations that he tried to bribe a political opponent to quit an election and also tried to bribe a former deputy into abandoning a lawsuit against the department.

Sheriff William Travis is accused of trying to entice the rival, Constable Jesse Flores, and the ex-deputy with jobs in the Sheriff’s Office, according to a search warrant affidavit filed Thursday.

Travis’ attorney denied late Friday that his client had done anything wrong.

“He has not been charged with a crime and has done nothing wrong,” attorney Richard Roper said in a statement.

Court documents suggested that Travis wanted Flores out of the race to avoid a costly runoff.

Flores said late Friday that the bribery allegations involving him were untrue.

The other bribery allegations involve a long-running lawsuit against the department in which former Deputy Kevin Bragg alleges wrongdoing. The court documents suggest that Travis was intent on getting the lawsuit dropped, even though it was against the previous sheriff.

Bragg had filed suit after losing his job with the department. He said he was a whistleblower exposing wrongdoing by deputies.

Neither man was hired by Travis.

Flores, who was formerly a Lewisville police officer, was later appointed constable after his predecessor, Jim Dotson, died.

In his written statement Friday night, Roper defended Travis’ credentials, describing him as “one the most highly qualified sheriffs in Texas,” “a former DEA special agent,” and “a highly successful business man” who is “bringing those skills he learned in federal law enforcement and the private sector to improve the Sheriff’s Office and the county jail.

“Some don’t like that,” wrote Roper, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas.

The Texas Rangers’ investigation of Travis became public this week after a search warrant was issued for Flores’ cellphone. He told an investigator that the telephone contained exchanges between him and Travis.

Flores denied the sheriff had tried to bribe him, but he was also vague in some answers, investigators said.

The sheriff told Texas Ranger James Holland, who is investigating the allegations, that he made no job offer to Flores in exchange for him dropping out of the election.’

He told Holland the exchanges with Bragg were misunderstandings.

The bribery allegations came to the attention of investigators through a lawyer for Bragg, who is now a police officer in the Wise County town of Runaway Bay.

An e-mail, allegedly from Travis to Bragg, was forwarded to the Denton County district attorney’s office.

“If you did file a suit and you want to come back to work at Denton County Sheriffs Office a couple of things need to be done? The law suit has to be dropped and I have to see a judgment reflecting this by November 5, 2012!” according to the e-mail quoted in the affidavit.

The e-mail also demanded that Bragg provide a signed statement assuring the sheriff that Bragg would never sue the department or county again, according to the affidavit.

“Bragg believed that Travis’ electronic message conveyed ‘I will give you a job if you drop the lawsuit,’” the affidavit said.

Chris Raesz, the attorney for Bragg, told his client that he thought Travis’ offer was a violation of state law. The lawyer urged his client to stop communicating with the sheriff, the affidavit said.

Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Rex George told Texas Rangers that he advised Travis to avoid Bragg because he had a lawsuit pending against the department.

“George told Travis, ‘It is not our lawsuit, let it go,’” according to the affidavit.

The affidavit also said Bragg met with sheriff’s candidate Flores before the November general election.

According to Bragg’s account in court documents, Flores said Travis would give him a “chief’s spot” in the sheriff’s office if he dropped out of the race.

Later in the affidavit, that position was mentioned as captain and public information officer.

The affidavit said Flores initially agreed to provide any communications between him and Travis.

But later he told Holland he had deleted all messages.

Flores declined to allow him to conduct a forensic investigation of his cellphone and told Holland he was conducting a “witch hunt.” He later agreed to take a lie detector test if Holland would agree not to examine his phone, according to records.

Flores said Friday that he balked at handing over his cellphone because of personal communications he had with friends.

“I didn’t want a complete stranger going through my phone,” he said.

He said he is cooperating with the Texas Rangers.

“I’m not the focus of this investigation,” he said.

Flores said Travis never offered him a job.

He said he had heard rumors that Travis was interested in hiring him, but a job offer never materialized.

Flores said he did the best he could in the sheriff’s race, but he was outmatched financially and distracted by a pair of family illnesses.

Still, he said he continued campaigning hard, attending candidate forums and greeting voters at polling places on Election Day.

“I had a lot on my plate, but I felt it was important to continue,” he said. “I did the best I could.”

A retired law enforcement official and a current Lewisville police officer — neither of whom were named in the affidavit — told Holland that Flores has confirmed the job offer was made.

The retiree said Flores told him “there would be a place” for him in the sheriff’s department if he dropped out of the race, according to the affidavit.

The Lewisville officer told Holland that Flores said: “When Will gets in there, he will give me a job, in January I’m gone.”

He also said Flores claimed: “I have a job at the Sheriff’s Department, I’m going to be able to retire.”

Flores said Friday the unnamed people quoted in the affidavit must have misheard.

Dallas Morning News staff writer Tanya Eiserer contributed to this report.