in Houston, Texas
Texas Highway Patrol Museum settles lawsuit after using donations for fallen officers’ families on staff perks, travel
Wednesday, Aug 29, 2012, 12:46PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
hp

The next time your phone rings and you see the letters THBFA on the screen, pick it up, and, please, give generously.

The voice on the other end will be speaking for the Texas Hero Bereavement Fraud Association. The association has been set up exclusively to give aid to those selfless individuals like former state legislator Kenneth Lane Denton, who have devoted much of their lives to deceiving people like yourself into donating money to the families of fallen state law enforcement officers and keeping the money instead.

This non-profit is patterned after Denton’s Texas Highway Patrol Association in Austin, which was extinguished through the settlement of a state Attorney General’s lawsuit, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

During just one five-year period of its hallowed existence, telemarketers for the Highway Patrol Association raised almost $12 million on promises that included a $10,000 benefit payment to the families of dead state troopers, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

The association made good on $65,300 of those promises, according to IRS records examined by the Express-News.

The many millions were instead spent building a telemarketing empire with offices in El Paso, Austin and Houston, work that is pitiless and expensive, Ruben Villalva, director of marketing for the association and its museum in San Antonio, told the paper.

There was enough money left over, the lawsuit said, to provide "excessive compensation" to association staff, including annual salaries of more than $200,000 to two of the directors, the American-Statesman reported earlier.

Contributions from cold-called citizens bought travel to Hawaii and Napa Valley, fitness center memberships, veterinary care for pets, dental care, dinners, movie and amusement park tickets for staff.

And for all of this toil, Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman responded by fining Denton and nine others up to $2 million. He ordered the museum and its contents sold and the proceeds given to families who never received their $10,000 death benefit. Unsold assets will be distributed among other, presumably law-abiding, law enforcement non-profits, the judge ruled.

Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a statement today saying his agency took action on behalf of people promised over the phone all of their donation would go to families of officers, some of them mentioned by name.

“With the settlement, donations that were supposed to benefit the families of fallen police officers will finally be used to fulfill their intended purpose. Generous Texans opened their wallets to aid those whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice for our state – and the defendants took advantage of that generosity, spending donated funds as they deemed fit. The State took action to secure these funds and ensure they will actually benefit the families of Texas’ fallen police officers.”

To be sure, the state might have seen this coming. Denton, 71, followed serving three terms in the Legislature (1971-1977) by taking over as director of the Department of Public Safety Officers Association, founded along the same lines as the Highway Patrol Association.

By 1995, his reputation was such that a court found Denton guilty of theft and misapplication of funds, sentencing him to six years of probation and ordering him to pay more than $67,000 in restitution.

Herman’s ruling this week, prohibiting Denton from involvement in any nonprofit or for-profit law enforcement organization, ends more than 40 years of engendering the public trust.

The least we can do is reach deep into our pockets and give Denton and the others what they so generously gave to devastated families. And remember, absolutely 100 percent of your donation to the Texas Hero Bereavement Fraud Association will go where it is supposed to go.

Honest.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of Texas Highway Patrol badge by flickr user conner395, used via a Creative Commons license.

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