TX: Liberty County Officials Indicted

January 28, 2011

Cindy Horswell, Houston Chronicle

Ex-Liberty officials indicted on fraud charges


Indictments accuse former Liberty County officials of hurricane fraud.

BEAUMONT — A former Liberty County judge and commissioner have been indicted, along with a local businessman, in a hurricane fraud scheme involving $3.1 million in federal funds.

Phil Fitzgerald, 51, who had been the county judge during Hurricane Ike, and Lee Groce, 62, who had served decades as commissioner until losing reelection last December, were named in the 25-count federal grand jury indictment unsealed today.

The defendants are expected to turn themselves in to authorities next week where they will be fingerprinted, photographed and processed on these charges. Neither could immediately be reached for comment.

The indictment alleges that after Hurricane Ike devastated their county on Sept. 13, 2008, Fitzgerald and Groce used their elected positions to fraudulently award debris removal contracts. In return for subcontracts being awarded to Fitzgerald’s brother-in-law and businessman Mark Wayne Miksch, Fitzgerald is alleged to have received approximately $611,000 in kickbacks disguised as legitimate business transactions.

Groce and Fitzgerald are charged with wire fraud, theft of federal funds, bribery and kickbacks, fraud in connection with a disaster and conspiracy. Fitzgerald also is charged with a second count of fraud in making a false claim involving a generator.

Miksch is charged with conspiracy, bribery and kickbacks and fraud in connection with a disaster. Each of the 25 indictments carry a penalty of between five and 30 years in prison.

In describing the 18-month investigation that led to the indictments U.S. attorney John Malcolm Bales said, “It seems to me the evidence indicated decisions were made by these elected officials coming to Liberty County to remove debris and enrich themselves.”

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Posted by on Jan 28 2011. Filed under Crime & Justice, Texas, Top Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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