A Republican state lawmaker known for railing about the perils of government spending pleaded guilty Tuesday to abusing his office, admitting he reimbursed himself with public money for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses his campaign had already covered.
Rep. Joe Driver could be sent to prison for up to 10 years when he's sentenced Dec. 19 for one third-degree felony charge of abuse of official capacity. However, prosecutors recommended during a court hearing Tuesday that the Dallas-area lawmaker be sentenced to five years' deferred adjudication, which is a form of probation, and pay a $5,000 fine.
Prosecutors also recommend that Driver be required to undergo any treatment and counseling recommended by the probation department and repay $14,000 to his campaign account. That would bring his total repayment to almost $64,000.
"Misuse of taxpayer money violates the public's trust," Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said. "It is most egregious in these hard economic times. Our public integrity unit will continue to protect the people of Texas from unlawful and unethical conduct by elected officials."
Driver, who was re-elected less than three months after The Associated Press uncovered his double-dipping scheme, did not respond to phone messages left Tuesday at his offices.
Driver has said he plans to retire from the Texas House, where he's served since 1992, once his term ends in 2013. But since his plea deal does not stipulate he has to leave office, he can serve out his term because there is nothing in the state constitution requiring him to leave, Republican Rep. Charlie Geren, chairman of the House Administration Committee said.
In a 2010 interview with the AP, Driver acknowledged that for years he submitted the same receipts -- for luxury hotels, airline tickets, meals, fees and incidentals -- to both his campaign and to the Texas House of Representatives. He also collected thousands of dollars in state mileage reimbursements for travel in vehicles for which his campaign had shelled out more than $100,000 since 2000.
Driver could have owed more in taxpayer reimbursements, but House travel records before 2005 already had been destroyed, and Driver's campaign said he was unable to calculate the amount of any double-billing that happened more than five years ago. Driver has said he didn't know when he began pocketing taxpayer money for expenses picked up by his campaign.
Though he was being investigated during this year's legislative session, Driver championed controversial and ultimately unsuccessful legislation that would have allowed students to take guns onto Texas college campuses. The Legislature does not have another regular session scheduled until January 2013.