CHAMBERS/JEFFERSON COUNTY — BREAKING: KFDM confirms with the Chambers County Sheriff's Office the indictment of Sheriff Zena Stephens of Jefferson County on one State Jail Felony count of Tampering with a Government Record, related to campaign contributions, and two misdemeanor charges. Two other candidates for sheriff in the race Stephens won in 2016 were also indicted on misdemeanor charges.
According to a copy of the indictments obtained by KFDM/Fox 4, the contributions in question to each came from Larry Tillery, a Beaumont car dealer under federal investigation following raids on his business last year. Asset forfeiture documents obtained at the time by KFDM/Fox 4 accuse Tillery of operating "an illegal gambling and money laundering enterprise."
The felony indictment against Stephens accuses her of "reporting a $5,000 individual cash contribution in the political contributions of $50 or less section of said report, with knowledge of its falsity and with intent that it be taken as a genuine governmental record. Stephens told us it wasn't intentional.
Stephens was also indicted on two Class A Misdemeanor charges of knowingly accepting cash contributions of more than $100, namely, $5,000 and $1,000.
This is video of her after she surrendered Friday morning in Chambers County, where a special grand jury heard testimony Thursday in a case overseen by the Texas Attorney General's Office.
Stephens was released on $5,000 bond. If convicted of the State Jail Felony, she could face up to 2 years in state jail. The misdemeanor charges carry a punishment of up to 180 days in jail and up to a $4,000 fine.
Ray Beck, whom she defeated in the election for sheriff, was indicted on a Class A Misdemeanor charge of accepting cash contributions of more than $100. Beck is accused of knowingly accepting $5,000 from Tillery. He's also indicted on a Class A Misdemeanor charge of failing to return that contribution.
The indictment accuses Stevenson of a Class A Misdemeanor of knowingly failing to return a $1,000 cash political contribution.
Beck and Stevenson were released after posting $2,500 bond. If convicted, they could each face up to 180 days in jail and up to a $4,000 fine.
Voters elected Stephens in November of 2016. She is the first female African-American sheriff in Texas.
Statement from Zena Stephens attorney Audwin Samuel:
"Sheriff Stephens is the duly elected Sheriff of Jefferson County. She has spent three decades as a distinguished law enforcement officer protecting and serving our communities with valor and distinction. Prior to her election as Sheriff, Ms. Stephens had never run for public office. As a first-time candidate, she has now been accused of a technical violations of the lengthy and complex election code, in spite of her trying to cure that violation once she became aware of its existence. As the community will learn, Sherriff Stephens had no criminal intent in her actions. The charges, in this case, are a clear overreach by prosecutors who are willing to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” We intend to vigorously defend Sheriff Stephens against these allegations. She has been a critical contributor to cleaning up the corruption and the politics-as-usual in Jefferson County. We need her to continue to do so.
We look forward to fully vindicating Sheriff Stephens so that she can focus on doing what the good people of Jefferson County elected her to do - serving and protecting."
Statement from Sheriff's Office:
"The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is aware of the indictments against Sheriff Stephens. It is being handled through the proper channels. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will continue to operate as usual providing dedicated service and protection to the citizens of our County. Any questions related to the indictment against Sheriff Stephens should be directed to the investigating agency."