News

Former school board member convicted of defrauding frail elderly neighbor

By Ian White

CONTROVERSIAL former school trustee Shirley Fanuiel was due to be sentenced on Tuesday in a felony-theft case punishable by a prison sentence of up to 99 years.fanuiel-shirley-2014
Fanuiel, left, who was a trustee at La Marque independent school district for many years, was found guilty on Thursday of stealing real estate and an annuity together worth between $100,000 and $200,000 from near neighbor Wade Watkins, who was in his 80s and was suffering declining mental health.
Prosecuting counsel assistant district attorney Robert Buss told judge John Ellisor during a six-day bench trial in Galveston’s 122nd district court that Fanuiel, 67, had obtained a general power of attorney over Watkins, who was about 83 at the time, on June 22, 2009, and transferred ownership of his annuity to herself the same day.
Several weeks later, she obtained the deed to his home eight blocks from her own home at 1819 Rosalee Street, La Marque. Watkins, believed to have been a lifelong friend of her family, was made a ward of the county’s social services department in 2011 and died in 2013.
A spokesman for the DA’s office said on Monday: “According to the evidence presented, Shirley Fanuiel did nothing that benefited the victim after she obtained his annuity and home. The victim moved into an elderly friend’s home down the street before being taken to a doctor by a different friend during the summer of 2010. The doctor diagnosed the victim with advanced dementia and noted that the victim was totally incapacitated.”
The office’s major fraud section began an investigation into the matter after receiving a citizen’s complaint and the defendant was indicted in her full name of Shirley Ann Fanuiel in March 2014.
According to the DA’s office, the range of punishment for first-degree felony theft begins at five years and also includes probation.
The office did not give Watkins’ address but the central appraisal district shows that Fanuiel owns 2622 Rosalee, in the block where he was said to have lived by prosecutors at the time of her indictment. According to the appraisal district, she owns a further seven properties in the city in addition to her home.
Fanuiel first joined the school board in 1995 and soon made enemies of other members, notably Don Singleton, as well as former College Of The Mainland board chair Bennie Mathews and the chamber of commerce’s late president Jimmy Hayley, for her outspoken views.
She also had a checkered membership history, first failing to complete her re-election application in 2012 and running into another re-election glitch last year. On the first occasion, she was reappointed by the board after no one else stood for her seat. It appears that, in 2015, a procedural misunderstanding caused her absence from another re-election ballot but, in any case, by then the board was months from being
dissolved by the state’s education commissioner.
In her professional life, she was for many years one of three economists in the planning and regulatory department at the Galveston branch of the US Army Corps Of Engineers.
While there, she was the subject of a protracted dispute in which an officer responsible for signing her time sheets refused to do so citing unwillingness to be terminated for corroborating fraudulent documents after noticing that, on many days, Fanuiel spent several hours out of the office while claiming to be present and working.

Wait for it … you’ve surely guessed – yet another delay in county’s supreme court case

By Ian White

THE ATTORNEY representing county judge Mark Henry and his fellow commissioners in their case against district judge Lonnie Cox has won yet another delay in putting his argument to the state’s supreme court – and this time it’s for the hoariest old excuse in the post-typewriter age, a computer glitch.
After a string of excuses including a past dental appointment, a post-deadline long weekend and moving to a new firm while somehow remaining at the same desk, Houston lawyer Terry Adams once again asked the court for more time to prepare his paperwork in the case pitting the county’s executive and judiciary against each other.adams-terry-houston-attorney
Adams, left, took the case, in which the county’s law-court judges and executive officers are at loggerheads over who should run the Galveston justice center’s administration department, to the supreme court early this year after the state’s first court of appeals upheld a ruling against his clients that was handed down by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood in June last year.
Adams wrote to the supreme court late on Monday afternoon, saying his office computer had died at the weekend and destroyed all the work he had done preparing his clients’ case so far – the hi-tech equivalent of the errant schoolboy’s pathetic last-ditch “dog ate my homework” bid to foil a teacher’s deadline.
It seems the justices are somewhat more lenient than the not-so-gullible average teacher, however, and on Tuesday they granted Adams an eight-day extension of time in which to file his final paperwork in the case from Thursday’s previous deadline until Friday, November 4.
It was the second time this month Adams had requested an extended deadline. On October 7, he cited work in another supreme-court case when asking for his time to be extended from October 10 to Thursday’s October 27 deadline.
He had already persuaded the court three times to grant him extra time to prepare paperwork in the case, successfully presenting delay motions on April 29 for 15 extra days from May 3 to May 18, on July 11 for 35 days from July 18 to August 22 and on August 18 for 16 days from August 22 to September 7.
Those requests delayed his major document, his brief on the merits of the case, while the subsequent requests are holding up the justices’ receipt of his reply to the merits brief of his opponent, Galveston attorney Mark Stevens, who is representing Cox.
This time, Adams wrote: “The requested extension of time is necessary because the undersigned experienced a serious computer and external hard-drive malfunction this past Saturday afternoon when the power went off at his law firm which caused him to lose the current version of the reply brief on the merits that he has been working on diligently. The undersigned has not been able to retrieve the brief and he has been working hard to reconstruct the brief to the point where it was before being able to move forward.”
In the past, Stevens has usually objected to Adams’ delaying tactics but this time he did not do so.
In an exclamation of exasperation, he reacted with the line: “Backup files, anybody?”

New mayor kicks cop out of city hall for second suspension

By Ian White

FORMER mid-county top cop Randall Aragon is back on gardening leave after a change of mayors in his Alaska city.
The former chief of La Marque’s police department had spent just four business days back at his desk after then Fairbanks mayor John Eberhart called him back from suspension on allegations of abuse of his office.

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Aragon, left, who left La Marque in November 2014 to lead the Fairbanks police department, had been on paid administrative leave since September while the city investigated a previous police chief’s accusation that he had tried to obtain a $600 contract to perform security-assessment work his officers could have performed at no charge to an unnamed businesswoman who had requested the service.
In the meantime, his deputy, Brad Johnson, took charge of the department.
Eberhart reinstated Aragon on Wednesday, October 19, in the wake of the nonfatal shooting of a police sergeant and the arrival in town of some 4,500 Native Alaskan conferees, saying the department needed his leadership.
But Eberhart was in his last week as mayor and was replaced on Monday by a bitter rival, councilmember Jim Matherly, who had beaten him in the city’s municipal elections on October 4.
On Tuesday, Matherly sent Aragon home again as the investigation into the allegations against him are not yet complete.
“I thought it was a little premature to bring him back, considering the investigation isn’t complete,” he was reported as saying by local newspaper The Daily News Miner.
The city’s personnel director, Angela Foster-Snow, who is conducting the investigation, issued a statement on Tuesday, saying: “Chief Aragon will remain on administrative leave until a final report has been received and a determination has been made by the mayor and the city council as to the outcome of the investigation.
“Deputy chief Brad Johnson will resume the role of acting chief during this absence.”
Aragon told The Post last week that he will not comment fully on the issue until it is resolved.
• Last week’s report misstated that Eberhart was up for re-election on November 8. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by that inadvertent error.

One-time top mid-county cop in hot water in Alaska

By Ian White

FORMER La Marque police chief Randall Aragon’s job in America’s most northern state is on the line following accusations that he used his position as an Alaska city’s top cop to tout for business for his own security company.

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He was back at work in Fairbanks this week after being suspended from duty since September while the allegations – made by a previous city police chief – were investigated.
Although he is still under investigation, Fairbanks mayor John Eberhart asked him to return to work from suspension on Wednesday to take charge of an investigation into the shooting on Sunday of one of the short-staffed department’s officers.
Eberhart said he also believes Aragon is key to good relations with Alaska’s native-American population, who were holding their most important annual convention in the city this week.
Aragon, left, who left La Marque for the $118,000-a-year Fairbanks job in November 2014, told The Post on Wednesday that he was unable to say much about the issue at present but indicated that he would give a full account of the affair once the investigation has been completed.
Former Fairbanks police chief Dan Hoffman accused Aragon of telling an unnamed city resident who had asked for a security assessment of her business premises “that FPD was running short-staffed and that any officers that he could send on such a detail would [probably] do a very brief, cursory job of little value”.161023-brandt-sgt-allen-officer-shot-in-alaska
In a letter to city councilmembers dated September 18, Hoffman added that Aragon had then told her he could do “a ‘much more thorough job’ himself, acting in a private-contractor capacity as a ‘federally certified protection professional’,” that he would take “several hours” assessing the property and writing a report and that his fee “would be $600, payable directly to him by check”.
The city opened an investigation into the allegations the following day and the city council devoted much of that evening’s meeting to a heated debate on the issue.
Some of the councilmembers wanted an independent investigation, while others sided with the mayor on a proposal for an internal investigation by a city-hall executive. There was also some confusion about the rules that govern Aragon’s conduct while in office.
Adding fuel to the fire was the fact that one sitting councilmember is up against Eberhart in his November 8 bid for re-election as mayor.
Two days after the council meeting, Aragon, who was attending an FBI Academy training course in Quantico, Virginia, at the time, was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation of the allegations to be led by the city’s personnel director. 161023-officer-shot-in-alaska-2
Since then, deputy chief Brad Johnson has been leading the police department, but Eberhart reinstated Aragon on Wednesday, saying that doing so would not prevent disciplinary action if the chief is ultimately found guilty of abuse of his office.
The mayor referred to Sunday’s nonfatal shooting of city police sergeant Allen Brandt, above left, saying: “The tragedy concerning Sgt Brandt called for the chief to be at his command post and for all of our resources to be available during this very difficult time.”
He also said: “The Alaska Federation Of Natives convention, which is so important to our community and state, is here and Chief Aragon has built much goodwill and a bridge to the Alaska Native community. His presence and participation are beneficial to continue to foster good relations.”161023-officer-shot-in-alaska
Eberhart wound up his justification of the reinstatement by saying: “The investigation was the result of secondhand allegations. To this point, there is no finding that would warrant corrective or disciplinary action and it is important to minimize any possible liability of the city since it is premature to assume that there was wrongdoing, contrary to some statements made in public.”
Aragon told The Post: “Because it is still under review, all I may say at this juncture is I am so grateful to have returned to work and will continue to move ahead with all our superb community policing effort in developing a genuine partnership with our community.”

Scorn for fly-by-nights who ruined philanthropist’s political yard signs

By Ian White

ONE OF the best-known community helpers in the county is furious after thugs spray-painted hate messages on election signs in her yard in an overnight attack.
Barbara White was horrified when she awoke to find one of the signs, which showed her support for Democratic-party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, defaced by the letters “KKK” using a black aerosol spray.160928-barbara-white-hilary-sign
The letters are the initials of the white-supremacist group Ku Klux Klan, whose members are known to support Republican-party candidate Donald Trump.
Whether Klan members were responsible for defacing the sign is not known but the word “Trump” was scrawled across another sign, promoting Democrat Cornell Walker’s bid to become judge in the county’s 10th district court.
A third sign, supporting the party’s former county chairman, Lloyd Criss, in his campaign to unseat Republican Wayne Faircloth for the county’s 23rd-district seat in the Texas house of representatives, had the letter “P” superimposed on his name to make it spell “Crips”, the name of an infamous street gang.
White, who has become a celebrity in her hometown of Texas City for her good works including organizing an annual Thanksgiving lunch for hundreds of poor people, spoke to The Post the day after the signs were defaced early this week.160928-barbara-white-vandalized-sign
“I am appalled,” she said. “This is not behavior I expect. It was a cowardly thing to do.”
She said she believed the attack was a preview of what might happen should Trump be voted president in the November 8 general election.
“These are the type of supporters he has,” she said.
“They are prone to violence and are taking away our rights of free expression.”
She was backed up by Criss, who described the destruction of the signs as a vile act and agreed that it was nothing to do with the cause of legitimate free speech.
“The fact that they picked on a woman shows what despicable cowards these people are,” he said.

Sign photos by Barbara White

Hillary Clinton - releases-taxesCriss, Lloyd croppedWalker, Cornell 2016Hillary Clinton – far left

Lloyd Criss – left

Cornell Walker – below left