AUSTIN — The doors finally will close on the Texas Highway Patrol Museum in San Antonio, a charity that raised millions of dollars under the guise that the money would benefit state troopers and their families, yet spent less than a penny of every fundraising dollar on that effort.
After receiving dozens of complaints about the charity, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the museum in December, accusing the charity’s leaders of squandering donations. He sought to permanently shut it down.
On Tuesday, a settlement filed in a Travis County courtroom ended the lawsuit — and the museum.
Under the terms of the settlement, the charity that owned the museum has been dissolved. Karl Johnson, a court-appointed receiver, plans to sell some assets, including the empty brick building that housed the small museum.
The highway patrol museum in San Antonio was not connected to DPS, despite its official-sounding name.
In a report last fall, the San Antonio Express-News found the museum at South Alamo and South St. Mary’s streets actually was a telemarketing operation that employed hundreds of workers across the state. The operation generated nearly $12 million in revenue from 2004 to 2009.
Tax records showed it gave only $65,300 to troopers and their families over the same period, or roughly one-half of 1 percent of its fundraising.
Assistant Attorney General Karyn Meinke said widows of slain troopers who never received a $10,000 death benefit promised by the museum finally will receive that money.
“There are seven or eight (widows) out there who still have not been paid,” Meinke told Travis County Probate Court Judge Guy Herman at Tuesday’s hearing.
The settlement permanently bans most of the highway patrol museum’s top employees from overseeing any kind of entity in Texas that purports to help law enforcement.
An insurance policy is paying $500,000 for legal fees and expenses to the state of Texas and the court-appointed receiver who’s handling the museum’s assets.
Most of the museum employees also must pay a penalty out of their own pocket. Executive Director Tim Tierney is required to settle $40,000 in credit card bills that were owed by the museum.
In the lawsuit, the attorney general alleged Tierney had no inkling what a “business-related expense” meant. Using donor funds, Tierney bought tickets to SeaWorld, airfare for vacations, movie theater tickets and video game rentals.
The attorney general called it a “gross misuse of funds.”
Michael Burnett, Denton’s lawyer, said his client didn’t want to spend years fighting the attorney general in court.
“He decided it was best for him to enjoy his retirement years instead of spending the next several years tied up in litigation and spending his life’s savings on litigation costs,” Burnett wrote in an email to the Express-News. “The AG’s settlement offer was simply too good to pass up. We are very pleased this is over.”
The board members were current or former Department of Public Safety troopers, and the lawsuit led to paid suspensions for everyone still on the job.
David Minton, a lawyer who represents most of the men, said they were unaware of the questionable spending. In court papers, the attorney general agreed they were board members “in name only.”
Asked if the new foundation planned to do any telemarketing, DPS lawyer Valerie Brown replied: “I can guarantee they won’t.”
Highway Patrol museum scam shuts down for good
August 29, 2012
San Antonio Express-News
AG Slaps The Texas Highway Patrol Museum For Defrauding Victims’ Families
August 29, 2012
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced today he’s settled an enforcement action against a noble-sounding fund-raising group that allegedly did not fulfill its promises to law-enforcement families.
The Texas Highway Patrol Museum, which was never much of anything to begin with, has closed its doors and will send what funds it has to families of victims.
Abbott says the group had long promised to do that, but instead “spen[t] donated funds as they deemed fit.” Reports say millions of dollars were raised over the years.
“With the settlement, donations that were supposed to benefit the families of fallen police officers will finally be used to fulfill their intended purpose,” Abbott said today. “Generous Texans opened their wallets to aid those whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice for our state – and the defendants took advantage of that generosity, spending donated funds as they deemed fit. The State took action to secure these funds and ensure they will actually benefit the families of Texas’ fallen police officers.”
The settlement also bars several individuals from any future involvement with non-profit or for-profit organizations related to law enforcement: they are Kenneth Lane Denton, Timothy Tierney and Steven Jenkins.
A civil penalty of $2 million is also included.