DA Martin on Minyard Investigation and Conviction
Van Zandt County Criminal District Attorney Chris Martin called a press conference Tuesday, December 22, 2015 to discuss details of former Van Zandt County Tax Assessor J.J. Minyard’s conviction for theft of $178,856.08 from Van Zandt County. The press conference came on the heels of the front page story that appeared in the Van Zandt News December 20, 2015 titled, “Former tax assessor collector gets 10 years for theft” and Publisher, Brad Blakemore’s opinion piece titled, “Questions remain in case of missing county funds.”
During the conference Martin stated that he believed Minyard acted alone and there was no conspiracy as some had suggested. He explained that Minyard had told him after her conviction that the investigation had been “spot on,” and that she had manipulated numbers on deposit slips in between her office and the bank. “No one else in that office had anything else to do with this crime, according to J.J. Minyard; and that supported all the evidence,” said Martin.
The DA said that Minyard will be eligible for parole in 14 months and eight days. Explaining that he was unaware of any assets Minyard had to make restitution, Martin said, “We don’t have debtors prison anymore.” Once Minyard’s parole expires, any civil collections remedy terms have to be renewed. Therefore, it is unlikely, though not impossible, the County will ever be fully repaid.
There was a heated exchange between the Van Zandt Newspapers Publisher Brad Blakemore and the DA. Blakemore requested a private interview and said that he had asked the DA to meet with his publication several times over the last three years. Martin told Blakemore to ask his questions there at the press conference, but Blakemore refused saying, “I won’t do it here. I want to meet with you in person; and you haven’t for 2 ½ years, by the way.”
Martin responded, “That’s cowardly, sir… I don’t run investigations in the newspaper.” He then accused Blakemore of blatant sensationalism and said, “I’m the only elected official that gave you answers, and then you’re going to turn around and you’re going to single out my sweet wife and bring her to tears, and you don’t even have the decency to ask her the question yourself, Mr. Blakemore, and that is cowardly!”
“All fair questions from the citizens of Van Zandt County, not just me,” answered Blakemore. Martin made clear that he didn’t appreciate suggestions of impropriety in Blakemore’s recent “Opinion and Commentary: Questions remain in case of missing county funds.” In the article that appeared in the December 20, 2015 issue of the Van Zandt News, Blakemore questioned whether the DA may have had a conflict of interest, and said that it bothered him that the DA’s wife worked for the County auditing office during the time Minyard was stealing money.
Martin maintained that there was no conflict of interest and that his wife does not audit the County Tax Assessor/Collector’s office. He believed it was his duty to investigate, prosecute, and seek justice, which Martin believes he got, as Minyard is now behind bars in Henderson County.
Martin again invited Blakemore to ask his questions then and there at the press conference.
Blakemore then asked why Martin didn’t notify his paper of the press conference, but notified the paper in Tyler. Martin said that he notified the Grand Saline Sun, and the Commissioners, and that he was aware that Blakemore had a good relationship with them and County Judge Don Kirkpatrick. Martin also said that since the Van Zandt News had only a 22 percent readership of Van Zandt County citizens, he felt he should include other news outlets.
Making the same point he made in his opinion piece, Blakemore said, “I don’t think this thing is over. I think there’s more to it.” He said that people who work for the County had come to his publication and suggested there may be more to a cover up. Martin scoffed at the idea of conspiracy in lieu of the Texas Attorney General’s involvement in the investigation. “There are no co-conspirators,” Martin affirmed resolutely.
Before Martin finished, he reiterated that he’s being transparent now because the investigation is over. “I couldn’t do that before…” as there could have been a transfer of venue to another county, and then Van Zandt County citizens could not have sat as a jury of her peers.
Retired County Auditor John Shinn was also available to answer questions. Taking various questions from the audience of concerned citizens and County officials who packed the County Court at Law courtroom, Shinn explained that his job was to determine if something was indeed missing. There were red flags back in 2012 when Minyard was asked during the TAC (Texas Association of Counties) Budget Workshop about why the County wasn’t receiving the 2012 Sales Tax Commission. According to current Tax Assessor Shirley Chisham, Minyard’s response had been that the State had “changed the amounts the county received and possibly less vehicles registered.”
Shinn said that he believes the actual amount of money missing is $197,000, which was money that the Tax Assessor’s office was supposed to have given the County. Citizens expressed concern about insufficient checks and balances that may have made it easier for Minyard to steal the money. Shinn assured citizens that additional procedures have been put into place to help prevent this type of crime from happening again.
Current Tax Assessor/Collector Shirley Chisham has been credited with discovery of the missing money, and reporting it to other County officials, including former County Judge Rita Koches, who did not finish her term of office. County Judge Don Kirkpatrick defeated Koches (who now works in TAC’s Legislative Department), in 2014, and was appointed to finish her term. Kirkpatrick has been credited by many with spear heading the effort to investigate the missing funds, prior to the case being investigated by the Criminal District Attorney.