The breakup of an alleged gambling and money laundering ring in Beaumont last year has led to felony and misdemeanor indictments of Jefferson County Sheriff, Zena Stephens, and misdemeanor indictments of a constable’s chief deputy and a former Beaumont police lieutenant for political contribution violations today.
A Jefferson County grand jury indicted Stephens, 52, on a felony count of fraud for reporting a $5,000 campaign contribution in the wrong section of a legally required finance report, according the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday.
The indictment accuses Stephens of illegally accepting the $5,000 cash donation and a $1,000 cash donation during her 2016 campaign for sheriff from Larry Tillery, a Beaumont used car dealer, whose cash and more than $5 million in property was taken by the U.S. Justice Department in a gambling investigation that is in its fourth year.
Tillery has not been charged and Justice officials have said only that the investigation is ongoing.
The indictment accuses Ray Beck, 67, the retired lieutenant, of accepting and failing to return a $5,000 cash donation from Tillery. Joseph Stevenson, chief deputy in Jefferson County’s Precinct One, is accused of doing the same with a $1,000 cash donation, the indictment says.
Stephens, who became the first black woman elected sheriff in Jefferson County, defeated Stevenson, 59, in the Democratic primary and Beck, 67 in the general election.
Stephens was being booked and bail set at $5,000 late Friday morning at the Chambers County Jail, according to Paxton’s office. Beck and Stevenson were released after posting bail of $2,500 each.
“The conduct of the people indicted by the grand jury is illegal and erodes the public trust,” Paxton said today in a statement. “No one is above the law.”
Paxton, whose staff is working with the Texas Rangers on the investigation, said the campaign contributions came to light during the Tillery investigation. Details of the investigation were revealed in an affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District in Beaumont by the Department of Homeland Security asking to invoke civil forfeiture.
The Justice Department found what it said was evidence of Tillery operating an illegal sports betting book for at least six years and alleged Tillery was not paying taxes on the income from the operation, according to a story last May in the Beaumont Enterprise. The Homeland Security affidavit alleges Tillery’s wife, Judy Tillery, son, Brian Tillery, and daughter, Tara Miller, were part of the gambling ring, according to the story..
“There is probable cause to believe Larry Ernest Tillery and his associates are operating an illegal gambling and money laundering enterprise,” according to the affidavit.
Investigators confiscated $230,100 in cash from Tillery when they made a traffic stop Feb. 6, 2017, the Enterprise reported. Federal authorities then seized Daylight Motors and eight other properties in Beaumont, nearby Lumberton and Phoenix, Ariz.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].