Travis County prosecutor reviewing double billing by Dallas-area lawmaker

By Jay Root, AP
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Prosecutor reviews Texas lawmaker’s double billing

AUSTIN, Texas — Travis County prosecutors are reviewing the double-billing practices of a north Texas lawmaker who took taxpayer reimbursements for travel that had been paid for by his campaign, the district attorney said Tuesday.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said her office opened a review of state Rep. Joe Driver’s travel expenses after The Associated Press reported on them Monday and she discussed the matter with House officials. Her office is responsible for ferreting out fraud and corruption in state government.

“We have started gathering information on the Driver situation,” Lehmberg told The Associated Press. She said the review was in its early stages and included “a look at the statutes, including both civil and criminal.” She said she also would like to see the documents Driver had been pulling together to rectify mistakes he acknowledges making.

Driver has said that for years he has been submitting the same receipts — for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals and fees — to his campaign and to the Texas House of Representatives. The Garland Republican says any errors were unintentional. Late Tuesday, his campaign announced he was putting $49,426 into his campaign account, money he had claimed as reimbursements from the Texas House.

Driver spokesman Craig Murphy said the nine-term legislator welcomed a review from prosecutors.

“That’s exactly what they’re supposed to do,” Murphy said. He said Driver would fully cooperate with investigators.

“He’ll give them what they ask for,” Murphy said.

Earlier Tuesday, Texas House officials criticized Driver.

GOP Rep. Chuck Hopson, chairman of the House General Investigating & Ethics Committee, said he had called Lehmberg to see whether a criminal investigation is under way while he contemplates his own internal probe of conduct “that doesn’t make the rest of legislators look good.”

Lehmberg said she had spoken to Hopson and said House officials are “probably going to defer to us.”

“We don’t want to run into each other and be gathering documents and looking at documents at the same time,” she said.

Republican Rep. Charlie Geren, chairman of the House Administration Committee that oversees House travel, said Driver had made a “bad mistake” and said he would make sure that House officials and employees “cooperate with whoever wants to look into this.”

Tracy Young, a spokeswoman for Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, said the GOP House leader “agrees with Rep. Geren.”

“We want members to be transparent, and follow the law and accurately report their expenditures in order to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately,” she said.

Associated Press Writer April Castro contributed to this report.

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