Decision Made Over Surplus Property - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

1/23/04 - Smith County

Decision Made Over Surplus Property

The Texas Attorney General's office Friday, decided not to pursue an investigation into whether the Sheriff's Department misused millions of dollars in federal surplus property.

A simple letter, that acting District Attorney Matt Bingham said, could put an end to months of speculation.

"Today, we received a document, this morning, by fax from the Texas Attorney General's office, stating that they had reviewed all the records in this case and they were declining to initiate an investigation."

The investigation the Attorney General's office is declining revolves around one million dollars in surplus property given to Smith County by the federal government in exchange for housing inmates. That property ranges from loose tools and items such as sleeping bags and also includes larger items like lawn mowers and generators. Useful property, County Judge Becky Dempsey said should be accounted for.

"What remains to be seen, at this point, is the one answer that has not been provided and that is, ' Where is the surplus property?'" she said.."As far as I'm concerned, the answers have not been provided." 

"I believe the AG's office made a finding based on the information they were provided, there is additional information to be had.  The information continues to come forward."

Bingham said he has heard that before. He helped to request this most recent investigation and said he'd be reluctant to do it again.

"We requested who the Commissioners Court requested to come in and look at it," he said "I think this has been taken as far as it should be taken. I don't know where else to go with it, Scotland Yard?"

Sheriff J.B. Smith said he's happy with the Attorney General's finding, but said the controversy has put the future of the federal program in jeopardy.

"The public has benefited a lot from some of the surplus equipment, but if it becomes more trouble than it's worth and the public doesn't' want it anymore, then I'll certainly stop it."

The letter from the Attorney General did not rule out a future investigation, but did ask for additional evidence. Judge Dempsey says she's in the process of gathering that evidence. She says she will not let this issue die until she knows what happened to the property in question.

Chris Gibson, reporting

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