Texas: The Issue Is - Texas AG Ken Paxton avoids trial in fraud case

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HOUSTON - The Lone Star State's "Top Cop" strolled into a Harris County courtroom bearing the burden of three felony fraud charges which have lingered for nine long years.

But in a matter of minutes, the allegations that he peddled securities without a license and without disclosing to buyers he was being paid were rapidly resolved and the threat of conviction, disbarment, and removal from office all but lifted.

"If the contract is violated, you understand, both sides understand this court will be setting a very speedy trial," said Judge Andrea Beall, who presides over the185th District Court.

"At the end of the day, it is not a plea bargain. He didn't plead. There is no admission of guilt. There will never be an admission of guilt because he is not guilty, but we are glad to have this behind us," said Dan Cogdell, Paxton's Attorney.

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Instead, the Texas Attorney General agreed to a pre-trial intervention contract, otherwise known as "diversion", the terms of which include completion of 100 hours of community service,15 hours of legal ethics training, and most significantly, the payment of at least $271,000 in restitution to alleged victims.

Asked why his client Paxton agreed to pay if he did no wrong, attorney Cogdell offered a quick response.

"Good question. One of the answers to that is it's cheaper than what he would have had to pay me if he were to go to trial," said Cogdell.

Special Prosecutors Brian Wice and Jed Silverman said an intense review of the evidence and likely witness testimony convinced them restoring the financial losses suffered by Paxton's alleged victims outweighed rolling the dice with a jury.

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"It is no small thing that the victims in this case are going to receive right around $300,000 in restitution from Ken Paxton. That is no small thing," said Silverman.

"Restitution first and foremost was a game changer. Second, community service is like any other defendant. In a way, he (Paxton) has been on pre-trial diversion for the last nine years," said Wice.

In a statement, Paxton appeared to agree.

"For more than a decade, my family and I have been dealing with the ongoing stress of these accusations and are relieved to finally have a resolution in this matter. Dealing with a 10-year case looming over our heads was no easy task," said Paxton.

The Attorney General appeared to agree, issuing a statement which read, "For over a decade, my family and I have been dealing with the ongoing stress of these accusations and are relieved to finally have a resolution in this matter. There will never be a conviction in this case nor am I guilty.... Dealing with a 10-year case looming over our heads was no easy task."

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As part of the diversion deal, Paxton agreed to supervision by his prosecutors and to pay the restitution in full within 18 months from personal assets, not political contributions.

"You cannot use campaign funds to pay personal debts," Wice assured reporters.

It is a "debt" triggered by a prosecution Ken Paxton's lawyer believes should never have occurred.

"I don't think any of this would have happened, but for the fact he was the Attorney General when they investigated him," said Cogdell.

"The question isn't who won, but was justice served? I think the answer to that is unmistakably yes," said Wice.