Houston, TX – Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg tried to blame a retired Houston police officer for her decision to not prosecute members of an organized crime ring, and got blasted for it on Monday.
Ogg’s allegations were made after crime victims and police advocates questioned the lenient prosecutions carried out by her office, KTRK reported.
She argued that it wasn’t fair to ridicule her for individual cases, when thousands were prosecuted during the year, KTRK reported.
"We are clearing our table of lesser offenses so that we can bring higher quality prosecutions to these crimes against people and property," Ogg said. “While you can pick a case out here and there where there's a different result, there's generally a reason for it that's different from the general rule.”
When questioned by KTRK, Ogg attempted to justify her prosecutorial decisions with regard to certain cases, to include an organized crime ring investigation presented to her office by former Houston Police Officer Mark Stephens.
Stephens, a “highly decorated veteran” of the HPD, had retired after 16 years of service, and was a private investigator when he took on the organized crime ring case, according to his website.
The ring included two burglars, who broke into newly constructed homes to steal appliances, and a “fence,” who bought the burglars’ stolen appliances for pennies on the dollar to re-sell later, Stephens explained in a Facebook post on Monday.
“For perspective, we are talking about one of the most prolific organized crime rings targeting home builders and new home appliances probably in Harris County history, in my opinion,” he said. “I’m talking about hundreds if not thousands of burglaries and thefts that stretched all across Harris County and beyond.”
After an intricate and thorough investigation, Stephens presented his findings to Ogg’s office.
The fence was initially charged with a single count of felony theft, and no charges were ever filed against the two burglars, Stephens said.
He explained that, months later, “prosecutors suddenly determined the Fence was somehow a ‘legitimate businessman’ who didn’t know or understand that buying $1500 refrigerators for $200 … in the middle of the night … at a sketchy storage facility … from men he knew to be burglars … meant he could possibly be buying stolen appliances.”
“After indicting him for Felony Theft, it was now their contention that he was somehow ‘unaware’ that he was buying and selling hundreds of stolen appliances,” Stephens said.
Stephens said he asked prosecutors to explain their reasoning.
“I asked what on earth caused them to believe he was a ‘legitimate businessman,’” he wrote. “Are you ready for this? They believed him to be a ‘legitimate businessman’ because … he produced … a business card with his name on it.”
“That’s it. That’s all. Nothing else,” Stephens continued. “So, they dropped the charges on the fence altogether. He walked away free as a bird.”
Ogg’s justification for the lack of charges was far less detailed.
"In that case, the prosecutor felt the private investigator who was pushing the case unfortunately hadn't gotten evidence to their satisfaction," she told KTRK.
It was an allegation that Stephens wasn’t about to let slip quietly by.
“In an attempt to defend herself and her office from failing to take action against these criminals, Ms. Ogg placed the blame squarely on me by stating that I ‘pushed’ a case on the DA’s office and offered ‘no evidence’ or ‘not enough evidence,’” Stephens blasted in his post.
“While it’s not unusual for a politician to look into a news camera and tell a lie or a factually incorrect statement ... I feel compelled to respond in order to set the record straight,” he said.
Stephens went on to outline the mountain of evidence he had forwarded to prosecutors, which included photographs of burglaries as they were being committed, a videotaped undercover purchase from the fence, and documentation regarding the suspects’ relationships with one another.
He even provided documentation that tracked an appliance from the manufacturer, through the time it was sold to Stephens by the fence, he said.
“Additionally, I provided a checklist to the DA’s office of things they needed to do to shore up or strengthen the case. This checklist of ‘to do’ items involved activity beyond my capability since I don’t have subpoena power,” he wrote. “To the best of my knowledge, none of my ‘to do’ list was ever completed by the DAs office.”
“Ms. Ogg's insistence that I did not bring enough evidence was not only erroneous, it was seemingly designed to wash over her own failure to pursue the additional evidence I suggested and requested,” Stephens concluded.
The burglars were ultimately charged in a neighboring jurisdiction, after Stephens notified authorities that the suspects would likely be coming to their area next.
He was correct.
“This arrest came months after I notified the DAs office that they were the burglars in my Organized Crime ring and that they were still committing burglaries on a regular basis,” Stephens noted.
The burglars were sentenced to probation, Stephens said.
“In addition to NOT charging the Burglars in any of my cases ... and giving them Probation - Deferred Adjudication - the DA’s office made no effort to recover the additional stolen appliances,” Stephens explained. “So, not only did the Burglars get to stay out of jail ... they got to KEEP the rest of the stolen appliances as a ‘bonus.’”
Ogg is in the first year of her first term as the District Attorney, KTRK reported.