LEAGUE CITY — The former secretary for County Commissioner Ken Clark has pleaded no contest to charges she conducted political business on county equipment while on the clock for the county.
Celia Mabry wasn’t in court on Tuesday, but her attorney, Greg Cagle, signed a plea deal with special prosecutor Chuck Noll that allowed her to plead no-contest, pay a $1 fine and about $70 in court costs. Her plea came about a month after Keith Dill, who was the treasurer for a Clark-created political action committee, reached a deal to settle his charges of failing to file timely campaign reports for the PAC.
The charges against Mabry and Dill stemmed from a yearlong investigation into allegations that Clark took bribes disguised as campaign donations. Noll confirmed that the investigation found no evidence Clark ever took money from county vendors in exchange for votes to get county business.
The misdemeanor case was initially filed in Justice of the Peace Jim Schweitzer’s court, but the judge, who is seeking re-election after switching parties to run as a Republican, sent the case to Justice of the Peace Penny Pope’s court.
Galveston County Democratic Party Chairman Lloyd Criss and former county employees brought the allegations of bribery against Clark, one of the county’s most powerful Republicans. Noll said witnesses he interviewed and records showed “no evidence whatsoever” Clark ever engaged in quid pro quo dealings with county vendors.
Noll was appointed special prosecutor by District Attorney Jack Roady.
“None of it panned out,” Noll said. “We interviewed many witnesses that those who brought the allegations said would confirm what they claimed, but those witnesses denied those allegations.”
Noll repeated what he confirmed to The Daily News last summer — he did not investigate other possible violations of state election laws because the statute of limitations had expired.
Cagle did not respond to calls or emails from The Daily News, but in an interview with the Houston Chronicle he said that as part of Mabry’s defense he sought to have Clark testify.
He said that a subpoena was never served on Clark to compel him to testify as the defense’s only witness.
Cagle also said that Mabry decided the high cost of a drawn-out defense on the minor misdemeanor charge prompted the plea agreement. A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt.
He maintained, as he has from the start, that any political business done on county time and equipment was at the direction of Clark.
Clark’s attorney George Parnham, said if called, his client would have indeed testified and “would not have pleaded the Fifth,” meaning he would not have declined to answer questions as not to incriminate himself.
Noll confirmed that while Cagle sent a letter to the clerk’s office requesting a subpoena, he never formally filed with the court to have Clark served. Without such a formal request, no subpoena was issued, he said.
While essentially a closed case, Mabry does have 30 days in which she can seek an appeal, Roady said. Until then, the case is officially still under investigation.
As for Dill, he paid a $1 fine and court costs and agreed to resign his position as the treasurer of the CARS PAC, which was created to help promote passage of the 2008 county road, facilities and drainage bond proposals.
Records show that most of the expenses of that PAC were paid to Clark’s political consulting business. Court records show that Dill told prosecutors that while he was listed as treasurer, Clark managed the PAC’s expenses and finances.
Because that PAC has money in the bank, a new treasurer has to be appointed. Parnham said he did not know whether that had been done.
Clark, while cleared on criminal charges, still faces a state ethics investigation that is examining many of the things the special prosecutor looked into.
Meanwhile, Clark is up for re-election. While he was one of the few elected officials not to draw an opponent for the primary, he will face Democrat Robert Hutchins in the November election.