The Democratic Primary race for constable of Precinct 5 took a contentious turn this week, as challenger Beth Villarreal and incumbent Jaime Cortes accused each other of dirty campaign tactics, unethical conduct and past personal misconduct.
Cortes was appointed last summer to replace openly gay Constable Mike Dupree, after Dupree resigned to avoid criminal charges stemming from allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct in office.
There is a third candidate, Ozumba Lnuk-X, on the Democratic Primary ballot. There are no Republican contenders for the seat.
Villarreal delivered papers to Dallas Voice offices early last week accusing Cortes of allowing deputies to campaign for him while on duty and of hiring six individuals who, she said, have previously been charged with criminal offenses or are currently under indictment.
She said some of Cortes’ deputies had been handling personal business while on duty and that some of them had been removing her campaign signs and replacing them with Cortes’ signs.
In addition, Villarreal said, Cortes has been using a vehicle, emblazoned with Cortes’ name and the word "Constable," registered to a former Precinct 1 deputy constable, and a truck belonging to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price in his campaign, without reporting the vehicles as "in-kind" contributions.
Villarreal said that Cortes and his deputies had allowed a backlog of more than 40,000 unserved documents to pile up. Cortes, however, said reports on file with the county show that since taking office last year, he led the Precinct 5 office from last place to second place in efficiency and documents served.
Along with the paperwork, Villarreal gave Dallas Voice digital photographs and a videotape that she said back up her claims against Cortes.
In a telephone interview this week, Cortes denied the allegations and said Villarreal had lied about her past and her qualifications for constable.
Cortes said if his deputies "take some time off to campaign on their personal time or their vacation time or comp time, they can do whatever they wish on their time off."
He said that if any of his employees are accused of handling personal business on county time, he would initiate an investigation and take proper disciplinary action where necessary.
Cortes denied that anyone associated with his campaign had removed Villarreal’s signs, and said, instead, that her supporters had removed and defaced his campaign signs in several instances.
Cortes said the personal vehicle Villarreal questioned is one he purchased from the former Precinct 1 deputy, but he said he lost the title and has not yet transferred it into his name. He also said his campaign had only recently started using the billboard truck belonging to Commissioner Price, and that it would be listed as an in-kind contribution on his next campaign finance report, which was due Thursday, Feb. 21.
Responding to allegations that some of his employees had been charged with criminal offenses or are under indictment, Cortes said Dallas County policy requires all applicants to apply online. The county’s human resources department then conducts background checks before referring applicants to other departments.
"They do not send me any applicant who has a criminal background," Cortes said. "For an officer, you can’t have a Class B [misdemeanor] or above. If you are a clerk, you can have a Class B offense but nothing above that. … It’s all cleared through Dallas County."
In a separate telephone interview, Cortes said Villarreal lied about having served as a licensed peace officer in what was then the Precinct 6 constable’s (now Precinct 5, following redistricting) from 1994 to 1996. He said that while state records show that Villarreal had graduated from a law enforcement academy and had passed the test to be licensed, her license was never activated.
He said that peace officers’ licenses are only activated when an individual is hired by a law enforcement agency, and that agency notifies the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards and Education. Cortes said TCLEOSE has no record of Villarreal’s license being activated.
He said records also show Villarreal attempted to retake the test in 2001 and again in 2002, failing both times.
Cortes said Villarreal was involved in a car accident in Duncanville in 1996, under the name Beth V. Olivaros. He said she was detained by officers because she did not have insurance, and that she failed to pay for damages in the accident, resulting in a judgment against her for $1,983 issued on May 1, 2004.
Cortes said Villarreal had twice been evicted for failing to pay rent, once in 1996 and once in 2003. He said the Precinct 5 constable is responsible for managing a $3.5 million budget, and those evictions call Villarreal’s money management abilities into question.
And he said he has filed ethics violations complaints against Villarreal with both the state and with the Dallas County District Attorney because she used the Texas state seal in campaign literature and on her Web site.
Villarreal said Cortes had misrepresented her past work experience in the constable’s office, and that it was because Cortes’ chief deputy, Keith Hines, refused her access to her records that she was unable to get the TCLEOSE records corrected.
Villarreal said when she went to work for the constable’s office in 1994, the chief deputy failed to submit the proper paperwork to the TCLEOSE offices, an oversight she knew nothing about until last September when she decided to run for office.
Although both the previous constable and the previous chief deputy are now deceased, Villarreal said she has several witnesses who remember working with her at that time, including County Judge Jim Foster. She said Nancy Woertendyke, wife of her campaign manager Claire Woertendyke, was also a deputy in the same precinct at the same time, and that her paperwork also had been lost.
Villarreal said officials with TCLEOSE told her to get copies of her personnel files from the constable’s office where she had worked to correct the oversight. But she said Chief Deputy Hines refused to give her those files.
Villarreal denied having been in the accident in Duncanville, saying Cortes’ claim is "absolutely false," and that her driving record is clean. She also denied ever having been evicted. Although she acknowledged being late in paying her rent once in 2003, she said she has receipts from her landlord verifying that she had paid, including late fees, before the case went to court.
Villarreal also acknowledged that she failed the licensing test in 2001 and 2002, saying she had tried to take the test to get relicensed without studying. But she denied purposefully using the state seal in any campaign materials.
"I took a photo and the seal is in the background. But I was not aware there was any violation involved," she said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 22, 2008