WACO (September 12, 2012)—If lawyers for tax assessor/collector A.F. “Buddy” Skeen have their way the trial scheduled for Monday won’t happen, at least not in Waco.
Thomas West, Skeen’s lead attorney, filed a motion for change of venue with the 54th District Court on Tuesday, saying because of pretrial publicity, Skeen could not get a fair trial in Waco.
Skeen is charged with one count of abuse of official capacity, five counts charging misappropriation of fiduciary property and additional counts stemming from the alleged misuse of his office.
West said Tuesday a pretrial hearing on the motion is set for Thursday, but a check of the 54th District Court docket for that day did not reveal the setting.
Skeen’s trial is set to begin Monday.
The most recent indictment against Steen, returned April 17, alleges Skeen traded in a 2006 Ford pickup truck to Greg May Chevrolet in West for less than the fair market value of the vehicle; sold a 2008 Chevrolet pickup truck to Darrell Anderson for less than the fair market value of the vehicle; used office funds to pay vehicle sales taxes and fees on a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe, which qualified for tax and fee exemptions; used office funds to pay vehicle sale tax and fees on a 2008 Ford Expedition, which qualified as an exemption from tax and fees, and used office funds to pay sales tax and fees on a 2010 GMC pickup, which also qualified for the exemptions.
Skeen, 69, who was defeated in the GOP Primary in June in his bid to return for a seventh term, has denied wrongdoing.
The indictment also alleges that Skeen allowed Dorothy Ramos to use a 2008 Ford Expedition for personal purposes.
Ramos, a top deputy in the tax assessor-collector's office, was indicted for abuse of official capacity stemming from the alleged personal use of the Expedition.
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna has declined to comment on the request to change venue and on grand jury's earlier action.
Skeen was arrested in December on warrants charging theft by a public servant and false name, information and forgery after the McLennan County Grand Jury indicted him.
He was released from McLennan County Jail after posting $27,500 in bonds.
Reyna said the charges stemmed from a false statement on a motor vehicle title application and the theft of accessories from a county-owned vehicle that were installed on Skeen's personal vehicle.
The accessories were valued at between $500 and $1,500, according to the indictment.
Last month, Rick Rapson, a car dealership finance officer was arrested and charged with forgery and giving a false name and false information in connection with the tax fraud case.
Rapson was freed on a $250,000 bond.
The McLennan County Grand Jury earlier returned a sealed indictment against Rapson, 56, in connection with a fraud investigation that earlier led to Skeen's arrest.
Texas Rangers served a warrant on Skeen's office on July 20, 2011 searching for records to support an investigation involving allegations that Skeen fraudulently listed a county-owned vehicle as a trade-in for the purchase of a personal pickup truck to avoid paying more than $1,300 in sales tax.
The affidavit submitted for the warrants said Skeen "fraudulently avoided the payment of $1,375 in sales tax…by fraudulently claiming a truck previously purchased by Skeen on June 24, 2010 with vehicle inventory tax interest funds as a trade-in on Skeen's purchase of a personal struck on Feb. 11, 2011."
The Rangers launched the investigation in response to a request from Reyna, who was advised of the allegations in a June 24 letter from McLennan County Auditor Stan Chambers.
In the letter Chambers said a recent audit of Skeen's Motor Vehicle Inventory Tax Fund escrow account "noted some irregularities."
The fund is where taxes that all dealers in the county are required to prepay are held in escrow.
Chambers said Skeen used VIT interest funds on June 24, 2010 to purchase a 2010 GMC Sierra pickup truck for $29,589.25 from Richard Karr Motors for use by his office in administering the vehicle tax prepayment program.
On Feb. 11, the truck was sold back to the dealership for $22,000, Chambers said.
The $22,000 was deposited in the VIT account as it should have been, Chambers said, but on the same day, Skeen purchased a 2011 GMC Sierra pickup truck from the dealership for $26,425.15 for personal use.
On the title application, Skeen listed a vehicle trade-in of $22,000 for a truck with the same vehicle identification number as the county-owned vehicle sold back to the dealership, Chambers said.
Skeen saved $1,375 in sales tax, Chambers said, "by fraudulently claiming the truck purchased with VIT Interest as a trade-in on his personal vehicle."