A grand jury has indicted state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, on abuse-of-office charges, the Travis County district attorney’s office said Wednesday. She could face 28 years in jail and fines up to $138,000.
The first indictment charges 13 counts of tampering with a governmental record, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine up to $10,000. These charges are based on allegations that Dukes made false entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to, District Attorney Margaret Moore said in a news release.
Two separate indictments were also handed down for abuse of official capacity by a public servant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine up to $4,000. These “relate to allegations that Rep. Dukes misused public funds for her personal gain, and that she converted campaign funds to personal use.”
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Dukes said she is “disappointed” with the grand jury’s decision and will “be entering a plea of not guilty.”
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On Wednesday afternoon, she went to the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center to get fingerprinted and have her mug shot taken. In brief remarks outside the county courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Dukes, flanked by her lawyers, she said she is “very relieved … to begin the process of getting out the other side of the story that I have not been able to speak about since February.”
“I will focus my time and my energy on the people of District 46 and their issues and their concerns,” Dukes told reporters. “I do not intend at all to allow anyone to get me distracted.”
Former staff members have accused Dukes of seeking reimbursement from the state for travel payments she was not entitled to. In February, The Texas Tribune reported that the state auditor’s office was investigating her use of state workers for personal projects. In April, the Texas Rangers joined a criminal investigation of Dukes’ behavior and presented their findings to the district attorney’s office.
“I commend the Texas Rangers for their thorough investigation and professional approach to this case,” Moore said in a statement. “The Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit will continue to work with them, and every other law enforcement agency, to ensure that public officials are held accountable when they fail to abide by the laws of this state.”
Grand jurors met for an hour Tuesday with Travis County prosecutors to discuss the case against Dukes.
Moore previously told the Tribune that the indictment will not interfere with Dukes holding office. The district attorney also said her office was ready to present its case against Dukes to a grand jury months ago but delayed it because Dukes asked for time to resign and negotiate the case.
Dukes’ lawyer, Shaun Clarke, told the Tribune, “She has been fighting for people’s rights in the Legislature for 22 years, and now she’s going to exercise her right to trial by jury.”
Gabriel Nila, a Republican who challenged Dukes in the November election; and Chito Vela, a Democrat who said after Dukes announced her resignation that he would seek the seat, each said in statements Wednesday that they will continue to call for Dukes to step down.
“My team and I have developed a plan to help unify our community so we can move forward from the actions and blemish that Dawnna Dukes has brought down upon us,” Nila wrote.
“I listened closely to the argument that the District overwhelmingly re-elected me to represent them,” Dukes previously told the Tribune in an email. “Constituents showed [up] to my home, sent text and social media messages. Repeatedly, constituents lobbied my parents, family, and friends or anyone who knew me.”
In September, Dukes announced her plans to resign on the first day of the 85th legislative session, citing health issues and concerns over caring for her young daughter. Just days before the session began, however, Dukes changed her mind and was sworn in for her 12th term.