Indictments dismissed against officials in Lamar CISD case
The Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office announced the dismissal of all the indictments returned against Richmond businessman James Gonzales, Lamar Consolidated ISD Trustee Anna Gonzales (no relation) and Richmond City Commissioner Jesse Torres which arose from an investigation triggered by complaints made to the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office by newly elected Lamar Consolidated Independent School District Trustees James Steenbergen and Tyson Harrell.
The trustees asked for an investigation regarding the propriety of contributions allegedly offered to each by James Gonzales. At the time, James Gonzales was CEO of I.D.C. Inc., which along with Gilbane Building Company, had jointly overseen construction projects for LCISD.
The Grand Jury empanelled by Judge Jim Shoemake for the July-December term of 2015, had returned a total of 19 indictments against James Gonzales, Anna Gonzales and Jesse Torres. Well prior to the completion of the investigation, being conducted by the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, the Grand Jury made the nearly unprecedented request that its term be extended. Judge Shoemake then extended the Grand Jury’s term for a period of 90 days.
“This extension of the Grand Jury’s term was only the second instance that such an extension has occurred in the last 34 years or longer,” stated Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey. “Although Grand Juries are allowed by law to conduct their own investigations, it is exceedingly rare that they do so when an existing police agency has not finished its own ongoing investigation,” Healey noted.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office investigated as thoroughly as possible. The investigation was led by Lt. David Shultz, who headed up a team of investigators that worked with Fort Bend County Economic Crimes Division Chief Assistant District Attorney Scott Carpenter.
As is frequently the case with investigations, much beyond the initial complaint was investigated. On March 1, 2016, the Grand Jury returned six indictments against James Gonzales, alleging four felonies and two misdemeanors; seven indictments against Anna Gonzales, alleging four felonies and three misdemeanors; and six indictments against Jesse Torres, alleging four felonies and two misdemeanors. The indictments are on file with the district and county clerk’s offices. So too are the motions to dismiss each indictment, with detailed factual and legal reasons that require the dismissals of these cases, including the uncovering of evidence which became known to prosecutors and investigators after the return of the indictments.
“Grand Juries have a difficult job to perform in their service to the criminal justice system. Theirs is to determine only one thing – whether there appears to be probable cause to believe that someone has committed a crime,” stated Healey. “I respect the work put in by the people who comprised this Grand Jury, many of whom I consider my friends. Yet, prosecuting attorneys also have a job to perform in their service to the criminal justice system. The primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys is not to convict, but to see that justice is done. The degree of proof required to convict is far higher than a Grand Jury’s is to indict. It is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. When an accused is indicted, and the facts known to the prosecutor do not establish a violation of the law or do not rise to that high degree of proof that should lead a jury to say ‘guilty beyond a reasonable doubt’, then justice demands that the indictments charging the accused be dismissed,” Healey said.