A humbled Rep. Joe Driver, the Garland Republican who illegally pocketed state travel money, pleaded guilty to felony abuse-of-office charges Tuesday and agreed to five years' probation.
As part of his plea agreement, Driver will get five years deferred adjudication, avoiding jail time as long as he doesn't violate the terms of his probation. After spending about an hour at the Travis County Courthouse waiting to enter his plea, Driver made a brief statement to reporters.
“Basically, my family and I are thankful that this has been resolved,” Driver said. The longtime lawmaker’s attorney, Dan Guthrie, said Driver may have more to say after his sentencing on Dec. 19.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who led the prosecution of Driver, said her office would continue to pursue allegations of official misconduct by Texas legislators.
“Misuse of taxpayer money violates the public’s trust,” Lehmberg said. “It is most egregious in these hard economic times.”
Driver recently announced that he will leave the Legislature at the end of his current term. Last year, Driver acknowledged that for years he had been submitting identical receipts, for airfare, fancy hotels and other expenses, to his campaign and to the Texas House of Representatives.
The Garland Republican admitted to the double-billing in an interview but said he thought the practice was appropriate — until a reporter asked him about it.
“Well, it doesn’t sound like it is now, if you bring it up that way,” Driver said.
“It pretty well screws my week,” Driver added.
Driver announced that he had reimbursed his campaign about $50,000 after the details of his billing practices were revealed publicly. Prosecutors said Tuesday that Driver would repay about $14,000 more, bringing the total amount repaid to $63,748.36.
Driver will also pay a $5,000 fine and undergo any treatment or counseling recommended by the probation department.