Donate or leave: Harris County constable accused of pressuring employees for political contributions


Harris County Precinct 2 Constable Chris Diaz pressured employees to donate to his re-election campaigns and punished those who refused, deputies and civilian staff said.

Thirty-eight percent of the $491,000 Diaz has raised since taking office in 2013 has come from Precinct 2 employees or their relatives, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of his campaign finance reports.

Fourteen current and former Precinct 2 employees told the Chronicle Diaz expected staff to aid his campaign — by donating money and items to be auctioned, purchasing supplies for fundraisers and block walking in the east Harris County jurisdiction, which includes Pasadena, Galena Park, Jacinto City and South Houston.

Three of those former employees — Chief Deputy Jerry Luman, Lieutenant David Williams and Sergeant Marcus Anderson — are part of a wrongful termination lawsuit against Diaz, who they say reassigned or withheld promotions from deputies and civilian staff who stopped participating.

Diaz has yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

They, along with other current and former employees said Diaz blurred the line between the constable’s office and his campaign, and at times appeared to express less interest in law enforcement than ensuring his re-election. Raymond Stewart, a captain who quit in 2015, said Diaz often would discuss the need to raise campaign funds during senior staff meetings on weekday mornings, a claim corroborated by Luman and Williams.

“I used to sit there and cringe… I thought to myself, ‘he doesn’t know any better than to be discussing what he wants to do politically, political fundraisers and the like, in a county building while everybody in the damn room is on duty,’” Stewart said.

Diaz did not respond to repeated phone calls, text messages or a note left in his mailbox seeking comment for this story.

First elected in 2012, the constable is seeking a third term and faces four challengers in the March 3 Democratic primary. Yellow and black “Re-elect Diaz” signs line streets and adorn businesses throughout the precinct, though the constable of late has kept a low profile, skipping a pair of candidate forums this week.

In addition to being asked for campaign contributions, former deputies reported being asked while on duty to collect political contributions from businesses and deliver gifts to Diaz’s wife, Jacinto City Mayor Ana Diaz. Some said they also were asked to contribute cash toward personal gifts for Diaz, his wife and sons.

The employees in the wrongful termination suit also allege they were retaliated against for supporting another constable candidate or cooperating in a Texas Rangers investigation into whether a former Precinct 2 lieutenant in 2017 misappropriated donations meant for Hurricane Harvey victims.

No charges were filed in that case but the lieutenant, Kim Bellotte, resigned. The former deputies and employees who spoke with the Chronicle said Bellotte was a key figure in the Diaz campaign apparatus who organized meetings and asked employees for donations. She did not respond to requests for comment.

The Precinct 2 constable’s race, one of eight in Harris County, already had drawn unusual attention on a crowded presidential year primary ballot. One of Diaz’s opponents in December claimed the constable had recruited a relative with the same name as the challenger — Jerry Garcia — to run for the seat in a ploy to confuse voters. Diaz denied urging a cousin of his wife to enter the race hours before the filing deadline.
Expected to donate

Since taking office seven years ago, Diaz has collected $185,000 in political contributions from his employees or their family members, according to a Chronicle analysis.

Mike Kritzler, a former lieutenant who resigned last year, said Diaz hosted evening campaign meetings at local restaurants. He said the constable at times used profanity and berated employees to contribute more if they wished to remain part of his team.

“His wording in the meetings, it was, to me, expressed that you needed to contribute; you needed to help monetarily,” Kritzler said. “If you weren’t, you could essentially just leave the department. They didn’t need you there.”

Two current staff members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity saying they feared retaliation, corroborated Kritzler’s account.

Maria Christensen, a former Precinct 2 clerk, said Bellotte asked employees to make donations. A single mother with an autistic son, Christensen said she did not have any cash to contribute to a 2016 fundraiser. Instead she found three fishing rods in her garage, which she estimated were worth $300, and donated them to be auctioned. Christensen said she wanted to keep her job, and “you try to do the best that you can.”

Former deputy Paul Tran said he twice was asked by his superiors to collect political contributions from businesses during the workday.

“It made me feel uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Tran said.

Tran said he avoided making similar trips and declined to help with the Diaz campaign. He believes that played a role in the constable’s decision to fire him in 2017.

Former sergeant Marcus Anderson, who Diaz campaign records show contributed $2,275 in the four years after the constable took office, said he refused to purchase tickets to a fundraiser at Top Golf in October 2018. Diaz was incredulous, Anderson said, that he planned to take his family on vacation instead.

Anderson said three days later, he was told he would be demoted to patrol deputy and stripped of his car allowance. He quit in January 2019.

Ethics were a repeated topic at a Precinct 2 constable candidate forum on Thursday in Southbelt, which featured three of Diaz’s Democratic primary opponents and a Republican.

George Risner, one of the precinct’s two justices of the peace, was among the scores of residents in the audience. He said he was disappointed Diaz was absent, and said he was stunned to learn of the allegations from Precinct 2 employees that they had been pressured into making political contributions.

“In 34 years I’ve never asked my employees for money for my campaign,” he said. “I think that’s totally unacceptable.”

The Fraternal Order of Police, which counts some Precinct 2 deputies as members, also expressed alarm at the claims.

“We can’t have deputies or their family members making political contributions under some sort of threat of losing their position or demotion,” Houston police officer Joe Gamaldi, the group’s national vice president, said. “It’s completely inappropriate if this is what occurred.”

Former command staff said Bellotte also asked them to chip in for Christmas and birthday gifts for Diaz. The presents typically cost several hundred dollars, Luman and Williams said, and included a watch, fishing rod, patio furniture and gift cards for a cruise.

Williams said the requests made him uncomfortable. As the Humble Police Department chief in the late 1990s, he said he refused gifts from his officers.

“You don’t do that. You don’t take something from a subordinate employee,” Williams said. “There’s an expectation you’re not going to take advantage of anybody who works under you.”

The former employees described at least two occasions when Diaz threw birthday parties for his sons at the office, and said Bellotte asked for help purchasing gifts for the boys. Teresa Nichols, who served as a clerk, said she typically gave the few dollars in her wallet.

“That so infuriated me, because I was wanting to say, ‘OK, can I bring my grandchildren here and we’ll celebrate their birthdays?’” she said.
Sloppy campaign reports

The Houston Chronicle examined the 22 campaign finance reports Diaz has filed with the county clerk since 2013 and found several inconsistencies. Candidates for all county offices are required complete the forms, which aim to document all contributions and expenditures, twice annually, and more during election cycles.

The Diaz reports contain many misspelled donor names and job titles. In several cases, only a donor’s surname is listed. In one instance, a contributor is listed as “Max, max.” The campaign also listed roughly $78,000 in what appear to be in-kind contributions, such as a donor giving an item to be auctioned, in a section of the finance form designated for monetary contributions.

After adding all contributions between 2013 and 2019 and subtracting all expenses during that period, as well as the Jan. 1, 2020 cash on hand, the Chronicle was unable to determine the whereabouts of $30,133 the campaign reported receiving.

Campaign treasurer Ana Diaz, the constable’s wife, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The Texas Ethics Commission can fine candidates for incomplete or incorrect reports, though only 22 percent of the candidates and officials fined by the state agency in 2018 paid in full. Ian Steusloff, the commission’s general counsel, said nearly all TEC enforcement actions stem from complaints made by members of the public.

“State law is specific as to what information is required on a campaign finance report,” he said.

Texas law affords wide latitude to candidates when spending campaign funds, which also can be used to supplement some office costs.

According to his campaign finance reports, Diaz spent $41,488 at supermarkets, $39,447 at restaurants and $33,061 for golf-related fundraisers during that period. He also gave $37,862 to various civic clubs, churches and charities in east Harris County.

Since taking office, the campaign paid Diaz $21,700 for a loan to his 2012 campaign. The campaign also made several disbursements labeled “loan repayment” to two men, though the reports include no record of loans from either.

One is a $4,000 payment to the owner of Tepatitlan Mexican Grill, where Diaz held several campaign events.

The other is Luman, who the reports say received two payments totaling $4,500. Luman’s mother contributed that sum to Diaz’s campaign in 2012, in between his election and inauguration, the reports state.

Luman said he, not his mother, gave the original $4,500 sum to the Diaz campaign as a loan. He said he never has been paid back.


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