By Lynda Jones
Walter Diggles, executive director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG); his wife, Rosie Diggles; and his daughter, Anita Diggles, entered pleas of "not guilty" to wire fraud and related charges on Monday, Dec. 21 before Judge Keith Giblin in Beaumont.
The three were indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month. Diggles was placed on paid leave from DETCOG on Friday, Dec. 11 when he reported the indictments to the DETCOG Board of Directors.
The charges stem from a nearly two-year investigation that began with a February 2014 FBI raid of DETCOG offices and the church in Jasper where Diggles is the pastor (New Lighthouse Church of God).
He was charged with 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of theft from a program that receives federal funding and three counts of money laundering.
Rosie Diggles was charged with 10 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering.
Anita Diggles was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, a charge both of her parents also face.
The case will be in Lufkin and has been reset, for the short term, until Feb. 4, according to Walter Diggles' attorney, Ryan W. Gertz.
"We expect it to be reset due to the complexities of the litigation and that it will likely go to trial in the Fall or early next year," Gertz stated.
The Gertz Law Firm of Beaumont released the following statement:
"Walter Diggles has served as Executive Director of the Deep EastTexas Council of Governments since 1990 and as Pastor of the Lighthouse Church in Jasper County since 1980. In these roles, Walter and his family have helped their community provide for those in need of food, education and even shelter during the hurricanes.
"From helping bridge the divide in Jasper County in the wake of the James Byrd killing, to working with leaders around the state to improve the lives of East Texans, Walter Diggles has been a tireless force for those in need. This family has done nothing but use their time and resources to help the least of our brethren here in East Texas.
"In the spirit of 'no good deed goes unpunished,' the United States Attorney's office for the Eastern District of Texas sought and obtained a sensational, but unsubstantiated, indictment through secret proceedings handed down on Dec. 2. After a highly publicized raid and a two-year investigation the indictment reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how federal and state block grants work.
"Money provided by DETCOG block grants are given on a reimbursement basis rather than a contract basis. The entire indictment reflects a misunderstanding of this simple fact."
The press release further states:
"We will defend the reputation of DETCOG – one of the premier Councils of Government in the United States – that has undergone countless audits of its finances before and after the raid in February of 2014.
"We will defend the reputations of the DETCOG professional staff who wake up everyday and work to make East Texas a better place to live.
"Walter and his family members will enter pleas of not guilty. We look forward to the opportunity to place the government's unfounded allegations before a jury of fellow East Texans."
• • •
Walter Diggles is represented by Former State Senator David Bernsen of The Bernsen Law Firm and Ryan Gertz of The Gertz Law Firm in Beaumont.
Rosie Diggles is represented by Bobby Mims of the Mims Law Firm in Tyler.
Anita Diggles is represented by James Makin of the Makin Law Firm.