Former Lavaca County JP gets 60 days, probation
HALLETTSVILLE - Former Lavaca County Justice of the Peace Fred Nieto Jr. was sentenced Thursday to 60 days in jail and five years probation on two theft by check charges. He must also pay a $1,000 fine and restitution.
Nieto, who was indicted in January 2012 and later pleaded guilty to the charges, will be on work release during the 60 days, according to the plea agreement with the Lavaca County district attorney's office.
He may leave for work at 7 a.m. each day and return to jail at 7 p.m. for the night, according to the plea agreement approved by 25th Judicial District Judge William D. Old III.
Nieto, who was represented by Gonzales attorney Houston Munson III, did not speak during during the brief hearing.
According to court documents, Nieto, 55, wrote a check for $18,650 on July 28, 2011 through Texas Dow Employees Credit Union without sufficient funds and on Aug. 1, 2011 Neito wrote a $6,400 check without sufficient funds on a Wells Fargo Bank account.
Other legal woes
Nieto, who was also the Moulton municipal judge until August 2011, is also under investigation by the Texas Attorney General's Office, according to Lavaca County District Attorney Heather McMinn.
After numerous complaints against Nieto for asking for "investors" to help him buy inexpensive used cars that he could turn around and sell for a large profit, McMinn sought assistance from the AG's Office and the Texas Rangers.
The Advocate also received numerous reports from area residents who are waiting to be paid back by Nieto.
Nieto, who owned and operated a used car business in Moulton, was fined $7,500 in August 2010 by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles for eight violations, according to the minutes of the agency's board of directors meeting.
Those violations included, among others, failure to maintain complete records, sold or offered to sell motor vehicles without the appropriate license for that type of motor vehicle, and failure to timely transfer title and pay sales tax.
Nieto's license to sell cars was revoked on Jan. 12, 2011.
Lavaca County Judge Tramer Woytek told the Advocate last year that an audit of Nieto's JP office revealed no improprieties, but Moulton attorney Travis Hill, who was appointed to Nieto's JP position in October 2011 before failing to gain his party's nomination in the 2012 election, said Thursday he found "numerous discrepancies in record keeping" when he took office.
"I reported what I found to both the Texas Rangers and the county auditor's office," said Hill.
A city of Moulton audit of the municipal judge's office late last year also revealed numerous issues, city administrator Deborah Pattison wrote in an email.
The audit findings included:
Nieto had a separate bank account in his name only that was not in a city depository bank to deposit fines and costs. That account has been closed.
The court failed to issue receipts for most of the money it had collected. Of which, $1,285.00 in fines and costs is missing.
The city owes the state of Texas $9,368.68 because the court had collected the wrong amount of state court costs and had not sent the money to the state on time. As a result, the city loses the handling fees that it could have kept if the records had been correct and had been paid on time.
The city owes defendants $4,803.34 because (1) the police department filed charges in municipal court that should have been filed in county court, and (2) the judge collected dismissal fees that he could not legally collect and collected fees allowed by law but failed to order payment of the fees. Because there was no court order for the defendants to pay the fees, the city cannot keep them.
The city lost more than $50,000 in revenue because the prosecutor had to dismiss cases that had not been properly processed by the court.
To date, no other charges have been filed against Nieto.
The Attorney General's Office could not be reached for comment.