Alleged Embezzlement By Former Courier Manager Reported To DA

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

Officials of the Polk County Publishing Co., Inc. (PCPC) initiated legal proceedings Friday, July 18, that could lead to the largest embezzlement case ever tried in Houston County.

JEANNINE RHONEJEANNINE RHONEAlvin Holley, publisher of the Houston County Courier (a division of PCPC) and owner of PCPC, along with Kelli Barnes, operations director for PCPC and the Houston County Courier, met Friday with Houston County District Attorney Donna Kasper and a detective from the Crockett Police Department.

At that meeting, Holley filed a formal complaint and presented financial records alleging that a former employee, Jeannine Rhone, embezzled at least $263,476.22 in the year 2012.

According to the Texas Penal Code, theft of property (including money) valued at more than $200,000 is a first degree felony. The law stipulates that an individual found guilty of a felony of the first degree shall be punished by imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for life or for any term of not more than 99 years or less than 5 years; and, in addition to imprisonment, an individual adjudged guilty of a felony of the first degree may be punished by a fine not to exceed $10,000.

Rhone was general manager of the Houston County Courier from Nov. 1, 2001 to March 10, 2014. She was the newspaper's administrative assistant/bookkeeper from July 2000 to November 2001, and administrative assistant/ad composer from April 1999 to July 2000. She held other positions at the newspaper over the course of several prior years, including classified advertising and composition.

On Friday, March 7, Holley granted Rhone a temporary leave of absence because she was suspected of, at the very least, doing a poor job of bookkeeping.

In a PCPC cover letter presented along with evidence to the Crockett Police Department and the Houston County District Attorney's Office, it is alleged that on that same day (March 7), a company accountant determined Rhone was embezzling money from the Houston County Courier. Rhone's employment was terminated the following Monday, March 10.

As a result of the company's internal investigation, it is alleged that Rhone embezzled $208,463.43 from the expense account at the Houston County Courier during the 12-month period of 2012.

The investigation also indicates five companies (including CPEnergy Entex, Verizon Wireless, Citi Bank, Dish Network and TXU) received payments from Houston County Courier funds, for accounts not belonging to the Houston County Courier, according to the PCPC allegations.

PCPC believes criminal investigators will find sufficient evidence that Rhone paid personal bills, including gas, cell phone, satellite service, electricity and sometimes her house note, with Houston County Courier funds. This amount totals $15,495.29 for the year 2012, according to the allegations made Friday.

"There is further evidence that some family members may have been involved in forging signatures and taking money. Rhone also issued additional checks from the expense account, made out to her family members during the same year, totaling $32,705.36. Another $6,812.14 is either automobile gasoline charges by several family members and/or unexplained expenses not related to Courier business," according to the allegations included in the letter to authorities.

"Rhone was not keeping an accounting of pre-paid advertising transactions, and because 2012 was an election year and all political advertising is pre-paid, we have reason to believe more money was taken than we can account for," the company letter alleges.

According to the allegations made Friday, PCPC has further evidence that Rhone continued to take money through 2013 until her termination date in 2014. It is unknown how far back the embezzlement goes, but PCPC suspects it started on a small scale many years ago and grew over time. The Texas Statute of Limitations for this offense is five years.

The findings submitted by PCPC to the district attorney and CPD were compiled directly from electronic check copies and bank statements obtained from a Crockett bank where the Houston County Courier does its business.

Kasper said the CPD and her office will examine the evidence delivered by Holley and Barnes, conduct an investigation and proceed with due process of the law.

"Eight years ago I had a heart transplant and trusted my employees to take care of the newspapers," Holley said. "It (the alleged imbezzlement) does disappoint me in Jeannine and the trust I placed (in her)."

Rhone was a resident of Grapeland during her tenure at the Houston County Courier. She and some family members reportedly moved out of Houston County after her termination at the newspaper.

Friday's filing of the complaint was the first step in the legal process. No charges against Rhone have been filed at this time. As in all criminal cases, a suspect/defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty by due process of law.

"The Houston County Courier staff works hard to earn the trust and respect of the community. Although the situation is painful, we will report this news story as it continues to develop, just as we would if it was happening to someone else, because we are committed to providing our readers with an accurate accounting of the news in Houston County," Barnes said.

Excessive Noise Leads To Stabbing, Arrest In Ratcliff

TROY ALLEN  DICKERSONTROY ALLEN DICKERSONTroy Allen Dickerson, 44, of Ratcliff, allegedly complained to Joseph Ward, 42, of Ratcliff, that Ward was driving by Dickerson's residence making too much noice early Sunday morning, July 13.

At approximately 2:30 a.m., the Houston County Sheriff's Office responded to a call at 115 First St. in Ratclif in reference to an assault with weapons.

During the investigation it was discovered that an altercation had occurred on CR 4710 between the defendant, Dickerson, and the victim, Ward. During the altercation Ward received a stab wound to his side.

Ward was treated by first responders and transported to ETMC Crockett Emergency Room. Dickerson was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and taken to the Houston County Jail. He has since been released on a $15,000 bond.

Officials Try To Extinguish ‘Firestorm’

Public Outcry Erupts Over Rumors Of Refugee Youth Detention Coming To Crockett

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

What Crockett Mayor Robert Meadows described as a "firestorm" erupted in Houston County Friday, July 11, as rumors spread that Cornerstone Programs was planning to contract with the federal government to temporarily house underage refugees from Latin America at the new Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Facility (DCRJF).

Joe Newman, president of Cornerstone Programs, assured the Crockett City Council on Monday, July 14, that his company will not enter into any contracts to house underage refugees at the Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Detention Facility in Crockett. (Photo by Lynda Jones)Joe Newman, president of Cornerstone Programs, assured the Crockett City Council on Monday, July 14, that his company will not enter into any contracts to house underage refugees at the Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Detention Facility in Crockett. (Photo by Lynda Jones)As the rumors and misinformation spread, public outcry increased, with many people getting downright ugly about the matter, according to elected officials who received phone calls from citizens.

When the Crockett City Council convened its regular meeting Monday night, July 14, Meadows said the item was not on the agenda, but he felt it was important to extingish the "firestorm" as quickly as possible. He then allowed Cornerstone Programs President Joe Newman to address the council and members in the council chambers.

Newman reiterated what he told the Houston County Courier on Friday, that Cornerstone has never intended to use the DCRJF as a detention center for youthful refugees.

Earlier in the day, Houston County Judge Erin Ford called together key stakeholders to discuss the issue.

Among those reported present at the meeting were Ford, Newman, Crockett Mayor Robert Meadows, President of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corp. Board of Directors (CEIDC) Chris von Doenhoff, CEIDC Executive Director Thom Lambert, Houston County Sheriff Darrel Bobbitt, HCSO Chief Deputy G. P. Shearer and others. Most also were present at Monday's City Council meeting.

As Newman addressed the city council, he said that representatives from the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) had visited the DCRJF the first of July to see what changes had been made since they visited shortly after the Crockett State School closed and if it would be an appropriate setting for the refugees flooding the Texas-Mexico border.

Newman reported that a major problem for ICE is the secure fencing and all the locks at the facility. In addition to two locked doors at the sallyport, all buildings and the detained youths' rooms are locked, he said.

The DCRJF is designed for detaining youth between the ages of 11 and 17 (mostly 15 to 17) who have been arrested for criminal offenses and are awaiting trial.

Removing locks is not an option, Newman said. At no time will any gates at DCRJF be unlocked or unmanned, he stressed.

Newman further reported that the officials present at the stakeholders' meeting unanimously agreed that the DCRJF will not be used as a detention facility for the refugee youth coming into Texas.

He declared Cornerstone Programs will not be applying for any federal or state grants to temporarily house any of the refugees.

Meadows said, "There's been some vicious things said. We've got to stop that now." He noted that people with misinformation "have gotten really ugly about this".

Newman also reported there currently are nine youth being detained at DCJRF, and that the goal is to have 80. Cornerstone Programs and elected officials still are attempting to get the blessing of State Sen. John Whitmire and his criminal justice committee to house adjudicated youth from the Texas Juvenile Justice Dept. The current youth are from counties that contract with Cornerstone for DCRJF beds. DCRJF opened in April.

Cornerstone President Says No Current Plans To House Immigrant Children Here

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

The influx of unaccompanied minors coming into Texas from Mexico has sparked concern among some residents that some of the immigrant youth might be housed at the Davy Crockett Regional Juvenile Facility (DCRJF).

In response to that concern, both Houston County Judge Erin Ford and Cornerstone Programs President Joe Newman stated Friday, July 11, that currently there are no plans for using the DCRJF to house illegal migrant children.

"Houston County and the City of Crockett have been working to support the DCRJF. The focus for Cornerstone is to continue to work with Senator John Whitmire's office to obtain adjudicated juveniles for the facility," Ford said.

Newman confirmed that Cornerstone's goal continues to be to serve the county youth and the state youth in its programs. He said the Crockett facility currently has nine youth, and expects two more to arrive next week.

While confirming that U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has contacted Cornerstone Programs and the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corp. (CEIDC), he emphasized that the conversations were very general.

"This is so premature," Newman said.

ICE was familiar with the former Crockett State School property from when it considered the facility after the state school closed. Crockett was on a list, Newman said.

Newman explained the federal agency looked at the Cornerstone program, but there is no contract and nothing is in the works as far as he knows.

Newman said, "If there are kids and they're suitable for our program, if it works for us and if it works for the community, then we would be interested. We're comfortable working with delinquent children."

"When we came here, we wanted to give the city and county jobs," Newman said. "We were looking at 82 jobs, but we're not going to do it in a way that hurts the community or without community involvement and support."

With regards to the immigration crisis, Ford commented, "We have to secure our borders. The complication for us is that we're a compassionate people. Once the children are here, they have to be taken care of (until their situation is resolved)."

Houston County Attorney Defends Old Glory

Case Update

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highes court for criminal cases, has granted the Houston County Attorney's Office request to review the State of Texas vs. Terence D. Johnson case, County Attorney Daphne Session reported on Wednesday, July 2.

The case pertains to the incident in which Terence D. Johnson of Bryan allegedly desecrated a United States flag posted outside a Lovelady business.

Session provided this update to Houston County media:
"Last year, the Court of Appeals in Tyler issued an opinion in our Destruction of Flag appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Houston County Court at Law Judge Sarah Clark dismissing the case, but disagreed with Judge Clark's reasoning. In fact, the Court of Appeals found that Terence Johnson's behavior was not speech protected by the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals decided the Destruction of Flag statute is overbroad and therefore unconstitutional.

"The County Attorney's Office does not agree with the decision of the Court of Appeals. A Motion for Rehearing was submitted. The Court of Appeals granted the Motion for Rehearing. But, once again, the Tyler Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the case.

"The County Attorney's Office filed a request with Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review the case (formally called a Petition for Discretionary Review). The Court of Criminal Appeals is the state's highest court for criminal cases. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted our request and has decided to review the case for a decision.

"The Court of Criminal Appeals receives approximately 1,500 requests to review criminal cases each year, but only grants approximately 85 each year to review. Our flag case is included in this small percentage of cases that will be reviewed by the state's highest criminal court.

"In May, the County Attorney's Office submitted our brief to the Court of Criminal Appeals. Terrence Johnson's attorney submitted his brief this week. The Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to hear oral arguments in the case, so now we wait for the argument to be set.

Holiday Charges Range From DWI To Assaulting Trooper

By Lynda Jones, Editor-in-Chief

Jessica Kimberly McDonald, 29, was stopped while driving southbound on US 287 at about 2:31 a.m. Saturday, July 5 for suspected drunk driving.

Jessica Kimberly McDonald (HCSO Photo)By the time her encounter with a DPS State Trooper was complete, she was charged with Driving While Intoxicated/Open Container (third or more offense, Felony, Class 3), Assault on a Public Servant (Felony, Class 3), Resist Arrest Search or Transport (Misdemeanor, Class A), Criminal Mischief >=$500 <$1,500 (Misdemeanor, Class A) and Driving While License Invalid With Previous or Alcohol Suspension (Misdemeanor, Class B).

According to the Arrest Affidavit signed by the arresting trooper, McDonald's 2008 black KIA four-door sedan was observed traveling in the left lane when not passing, and it was observed making a lane change without using its turn indicator, prior to the trooper stopping the vehicle.
Additionally, "Numerous signs of intoxication were observed and McDonald performed the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests poorly," the trooper alleges in the affidavit. The trooper then arrested McDonald for the DWI offense.

While in transport to the Houston County Jail, McDonald became belligerent and began kicking items in the patrol car, including the windshield, camera and radar equipment, according to the arrest affidavit.

The trooper further alleged McDonald assaulted him by kicking him a few times.
Bond was set as follows: $10,000, Assault Public Servant; $4,000, Criminal Mischief; $8,000, DWI (third or more); $4,000, Resisting Arrest; $3,000, DWLI .