UPDATE: Hill Co. Sheriff turns himself in on license fraud charges

By: Matt McGovern
By: Matt McGovern
Hill County Sheriff Michael Cox turned himself in to the Johnson County Jail Wednesday afternoon after arrest warrants were issued hours earlier, his lawyer said.

Michael John Cox

CLEBURNE, TEXAS (KCEN) - Hill County Sheriff Michael Cox turned himself in to the Johnson County Jail Wednesday afternoon after arrest warrants were issued hours earlier, his lawyer said.

Cox was booked on three felony charges, paid bonds totaling $7,500, and was released within an hour, Pete Schulte, a Dallas-based attorney, said by phone from Cleburne.

He said the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) arranged to have Cox turn himself in to Johnson County authorities because they didn't want to book a sitting sheriff into his own jail.

Schulte said the charges are false, and that Cox took the licensing exam himself. He added the information in the complaint response was true, and not made up at the behest of his client.

"We don't know where the allegations are coming from," Schulte said.

He said TCOLE never interviewed his client during the course of their investigation.

"He was not given an opportunity to respond," Schulte said. "I find it very disheartening that TCOLE operates like that."

Cox's lawyer did not know when a trial might be scheduled. He said he's still waiting for the court to order a special prosecutor and judge, because Hill County court officers have recused themselves.

There's limited information in the charging documents, Schulte said, and he's eager for the opportunity to argue his client's case.

"Getting a warrant based on, you know, limited information, what we call probable cause, is nothing like what the state of Texas has to try to prove at trial," Schulte said. "We look forward to trial. We look forward to showing the truth."

Schulte added Cox plans to return to work Thursday.

"He's got a job to do," he said. "He was elected by the citizens of Hill County.

Schulte does not represent the other three sheriff's office employees charged in the alleged licensing fraud.

Johnson County Sheriff's Office Lt. Tim Jones said two of the others charged, Bryan Winget, a jailer, and Leroy Rodriguez, a captain, also turned themselves in to the Johnson County Jail.

Information on their arrangements was not immediately available.

KCEN could not immediately confirm if chief deputy Mark Wilson planned to turn himself in.

In a news release sent out Wednesday afternoon, TCOLE said they started the investigation at the request of the Hill County Attorney's Office, "who received a tip of misconduct occurring within the Sheriff's Office."

TCOLE reported back to the attorney's office Monday, the release states, and the district attorney moved forward with charges.

Each is a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, according to the release.

Below is text from the original story:

A Hill County district judge issued arrest warrants Wednesday for Hill County Sheriff Michael Cox, on three counts of tampering with a government document, a state jail felony.

The arrest warrants, signed by Judge Lee Harris, allege Cox "coerced" an employee into taking an exam to obtain his telecommunicator's licensing exam from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

The license was awarded in August, the documents state. A second count alleges he allowed the use of an online system to submit the falsified license under his name.

The third count alleges Cox ordered another employee "to lie about inmates being seen downtown at a local restaurant," in response to an official complaint to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

That false response, the warrant states, was sent out on official letterhead from Cox's county email address.

In an email, Cox's attorney, Dallas-based Pete Schulte, said he has "not seen any details on the allegations," and was working on getting copies of the affidavits.

"We will be taking care of the arrest warrants this afternoon," he wrote.

Warrants for three other sheriff's office employees were also issued Wednesday.

Cox's chief deputy, Mark Wilson, faces six counts of tampering with a government document, and one count of breach of computer security.

The warrants allege Wilson was involved in coercing the employee to take Cox's licensing exam, and in submitting the falsified exam.

Wilson is also accused of notarizing five sheriff's office appointment applications using a stamp of Cox's signature, instead of the sheriff's actual signature.

Leroy Rodriguez, a captain with the sheriff's office, is charged with one count of tampering with a governmental record and one count of breach of computer security.

The warrants state Rodriguez allowed an employee, Bryan Winget, to use his account to complete Rodriguez's jailer training courses, and to take his jailer licensing exam, which was awarded in January.

Winget is also named in an arrest warrant for his role in the alleged licensing fraud. The warrant states he completed 40 hours of course work toward Rodriguez's jailer license.

The Hill County Sheriff's Office declined to comment, and instead directed questions to the county attorney, David Holmes. He not immediately return calls for comment.

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