AUSTIN (AP) – A state representative plans to plead guilty to a felony charge that he used tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to reimburse himself for travel expenses that his campaign had already funded, an official said Tuesday.
Garland Republican Rep. Joe Driver, who has already announced plans to retire when his term ends in January 2013, will enter the plea on a charge of official abuse of capacity at a Nov. 22 court hearing, said Gregg Cox, the director of the public integrity unit with the Travis County district attorney’s office in Austin.
Driver, a 65-year-old Texas House veteran who was first elected in 1992, has acknowledged that for years he collected reimbursements from taxpayers for travel he already had paid for using donated campaign money. He bought airline tickets and meals, and paid for luxury hotel stays and conference registration fees with campaign funds — then submitted receipts for those same expenses to the state.
Cox said he didn’t know the details of the plea agreement. The punishment range for the third-degree felony is two to 10 years in prison, but Cox said Driver could receive probation.
Driver’s district office said Wednesday that he had no comment and would not be available to reporters. Driver’s attorney didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
Driver said he wasn’t aware what he was doing was wrong, and that he reimbursed his campaign $49,426 after The Associated Press revealed the double-dipping. He waived an indictment and was charged with misusing something of value to the government that was worth more than $20,000 but less than $100,000.
An information document filed in lieu of an indictment with Travis County says Driver admits to wrongdoing between September 2005 and August 2010, but does not list the exact amount of money involved.
It says Driver admits wrongdoing by “using his campaign/officer holder account to pay travel expenses related to his service as a member of the Legislature, and by then retaining reimbursement funds received from the State of Texas for said travel expenses in his personal bank account and failing to reimburse his campaign/officer-holder account.”
Driver announced last month that has retiring and would not seek re-election. He was elected to a 10th term a few months after the AP revealed the double-dipping.
Driver could have owed more in taxpayer reimbursements, but House travel records before 2005 already had been destroyed, and Driver’s campaign said he was unable to calculate the amount of any double-billing that happened more than five years ago. Driver has said he didn’t know when he began pocketing taxpayer money for expenses picked up by his campaign.
Though he was being investigated during this year’s legislative session, Driver championed controversial and ultimately unsuccessful legislation that would have allowed students to take guns onto Texas college campuses. The Legislature does not have another regular session scheduled until January 2013.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)