AUSTIN (AP) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s upcoming trial on securities fraud charges should be moved from his hometown, special prosecutors said Thursday, claiming the jury pool has been tainted by Republican supporters and even former presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
Paxton is awaiting trial in May on felony charges of defrauding wealthy investors in a tech startup. He has pleaded not guilty and faces 5 to 99 years in prison if convicted of either of the first-degree securities fraud counts against him.
The trial is scheduled to take place in Collin County, a conservative Dallas suburb where Paxton lives and where a grand jury indicted him in 2015. But prosecutors told state District Judge George Gallagher that a “two-year long crusade” of lawsuits, social media posts, leaks and a public relations blitz surrounding the case has made it impossible to get a fair and impartial trial.
Paxton’s attorneys chafed at the accusations and said the trial should go nowhere.
“That these prosecutors are somehow painting themselves as ‘victims’ of some nonexistent conspiracy is extremely telling,” Paxton attorney Dan Cogdell said in a statement.
Among the reasons prosecutors cited in defense of a venue change was Santorum, the former Republican senator who has fundraised for Paxton, telling a Dallas television station in an interview this month that the case was a political witch hunt and should be dropped.
The request for a venue change comes less than two weeks after a Dallas court temporarily blocked $200,000 in payments to special prosecutors after a former Paxton donor sued over the case’s mounting costs to taxpayers. Prosecutors called the lawsuit a “not-so-veiled attempt to defund this prosecution.”
It is not clear when Gallagher will rule on the request.
Paxton, who was indicted just six months after taking office, is accused of duping investors he recruited for a data storage startup called Servergy Inc. by not disclosing that he was being paid by the company. His attorneys have argued that Paxton was under no obligation to do so, and a federal judge last year threw out nearly identical civil charges filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
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