Alleged theft of Hurricane Harvey donations, falsified time sheets to the tune of more than $20,000, and an investigation by the Texas Rangers: The scandal in the Harris County Precinct 2 Constable’s office has all the makings of a television drama. Unfortunately for taxpayers and Hurricane Harvey victims, it’s not fiction.
The scandal came to light following a public inquiry about time sheets and other documents for a senior lieutenant in Precinct 2 Constable Chris Diaz’s office. Three senior Precinct 2 officers compiled the information and noticed apparent theft. In February 2018, they took the case to Harris County Assistant County Attorney and Inspector General Nick Lykos.
Lykos, equally concerned, ordered an audit from the county auditor’s office and notified the Texas Department of Public Safety about findings of apparent theft by Sr. Lieutenant Kim Bellotte.
The audit took about a month to complete and was released last year. After it was published, DPS Ranger Daron Parker began a criminal investigation. Both the audit and Parker’s report lay out, in detail, Bellotte’s alleged misdeeds.
In May 2018, KHOU broke a story about Diaz and Bellotte using dry-fit shirts donated for Hurricane Harvey victims as campaign prizes handed out at the Jacinto City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
When investigators started digging, they found Harvey victims weren’t the only ones getting taken advantage of.
The investigation report, released later, brought a few things to light: time sheets submitted after Hurricane Harvey by Bellotte “indicated she worked eight consecutive 24-hour days during the Hurricane Harvey time frame.” Bellotte was classified as a “non-exempt” employee when she should have been “exempt,” and she stole other Harvey relief donations beyond the previously reported shirts.
Unauthorized Overtime During Hurricane Harvey
According to the investigation and the audit, against county policy, Bellotte self-authorized a change from “exempt” to “non-exempt,” and she wasn’t authorized to work as many hours as she allegedly did during the hurricane. More importantly, no one could verify she actually worked the hours she claimed.
“In May 2017 a Lieutenant [Kimberly Bellotte] approved their own County Auditor’s Form 3418-1-C, Change in Status of Employee, changing their qualified Exempt status to Non-Exempt and bypassing authorized department approval,” reads the audit.
Being a “non-exempt” employee allowed Bellotte to earn overtime known as “Z time”—time paid for special circumstances such as a natural disaster.
“The form reflected Lieutenant Bellotte authorized her own change in status, which allowed her to make overtime. Constable Diaz’ required signature did not appear anywhere on the form,” investigators concluded. An interview with Diaz confirmed he did not authorize a status change for Bellotte.
While a “change of status form” may seem like a minor bureaucratic infraction, according to the audit the unauthorized change allowed Bellotte to collect $20,800 in unauthorized overtime in 2017, most of which wasclockedduring and immediately following the hurricane.
Bellotte claimed on her time sheets she worked 24 hours a day for eight days straight, or 192 hours of consecutive work. The audit, however, concluded Bellotte’s work was “in a non-law enforcement capacity, without documented justification, and while allegedly working from a home environment.”
Despite her whereabouts being unconfirmed, the investigation revealed she was the only commissioned peace officer “from the rank of Lieutenant and above to receive regular overtime payment,” and she earned it at a rate “considerably higher than other commissioned staff.”
Following the storm, another lieutenant, Michael Kritzler, sent an email on behalf of command staff ordering all employees to return to “normal schedules.” While most of the overtime Bellotte earned was during the eight-day “storm schedule” period, the audit and investigation stated that “other overtime compensation was generated after the Lieutenant and other staff were directed by command staff to terminate overtime and to resume regular work hours.”
Records show Bellotte ignored Kritzler’s directive and worked the “storm schedule” for two additional pay periods, allowing her to continue to earn unauthorized overtime.
Theft of Harvey Aid
Bellotte allegedly stole Harvey donations for personal use, too.
Throughout the recovery period, Bellotte became involved with the Oak Meadows Church of God, and The Pastor’s Army, an organization affiliated with the church.
The Pastor’s Army collected donations including everything from food to clothing. They received so many donations they rented a warehouse in La Porte and hired a warehouse manager named “Missy.” Bellotte and Missy grew close, according to testimony from Bellotte’s colleagues and a search of Missy’s cell phone.
During his investigation, DPS Ranger Parker found “Missy,” whose name was actually Misty Foley Wallace, had two arrest warrants out of Union Parish, Louisiana for felony unauthorized use of an access card/identity theft and felony theft. She was arrested.
Bellotte allegedly used her relationship with Missy to obtain donations for personal use.
During interviews, employees of the constable’s office said “Bellotte brought a large box of boots to the office and offered the boots to several of the deputies.” The boots were taken from the charity warehouse.
Two of Bellotte’s subordinates even confirmed personal deliveries of donated items to her home.
Corporal Reed Clark, who reported to Bellotte, said in November of 2017 following a funeral for a colleague, “Bellotte directed Clark and other deputies to go to the parking lot and transfer a large amount of school supplies from Wallace’s vehicle to Bellotte’s patrol vehicle. Clark stated that Bellotte told them that her sister was a school teacher and the donations were going to the school.”
The report goes on to say that “Deputy Rudy Guillen told Clark that Bellotte advised him to take some of the donations home with him.”
“Bellotte directed Clark and Deputy Ricardo Rodriguez to drop off a load of donations on her front porch at her home. He knew some of the reserve deputies had also delivered donations to Bellotte’s home.” The same deputies were ordered to do this “three or four times.”
In a separate instance, “Bellotte directed Clark and other deputies to load three large boxes of raw turkey breasts and pork loins into her patrol vehicle. Bellotte encouraged him to take some of the frozen meats home. He declined. Bellotte later told him that she had been trying new turkey breast and pork loin recipes.”
When Clark was asked if he had any other concerns about illegal activity Bellotte directed him to do, he said he and others were “directed by Bellotte to transport donated food items to the Judson Robinson Community Center in East Harris County,” where she coordinated donations to be used as bingo prizes.
Another officer reported: “On one occasion he assisted Bellotte in loading her patrol vehicle to the point she could hardly fit in the driver’s seat. Bellotte was selective with the items. He asked Bellotte if she needed assistance unloading the goods at her destination. Bellotte declined. This occurred on three separate occasions.” He recalled questioning the behavior “as this load was a significant amount for one person to unload, and the other deputies always operated in at least pairs.”
Lack of documentation allowed Bellotte to conceal the alleged theft of donations. Lt. David Williams with the precinct’s Internal Affairs Department asked Bellotte if she or her deputies had any logs of inventory or disposition of Harvey-related donations and she said she didn’t.
Lack of oversight
Bellotte was able to work hours she chose, personally change her employment status, and allegedly steal supplies without any questions from her chain of command.
It seems Bellotte was able to get away with many of her misdeeds because of her close, personal relationship with Constable Chris Diaz and an apparent breakdown in chain-of-command from her superiors.
There were two levels in the chain separating Bellotte and Diaz, Chief Deputy Jerry Luman and Assistant Chief Norman Verbosky. Both told Ranger Parker that Bellotte’s subordinates reported to them numerous times that her actions gave them concerns, yet nothing was brought to light until public information requests were made.
The concerns weren’t just regarding theft but also included safety concerns.
Multiple employees complained of Bellotte’s mental well-being and a failure of the constable to address it. Some said she threatened “heads were going to roll” when she was cleared of the investigation. Others reported emotional outbursts in the office, and two reported she had been seen circling the office five times per day in her vehicle to see who was there.
“The County Attorney’s Office suggested Bellotte be placed on leave and undergo a psychological examination to determine her fitness for duty. Diaz had not taken any action with regard to directing Bellotte to undergo the psychological examination,” concludes the report.
The report also details concerns over Bellotte’s use of firearms. “Precinct 2 held their annual firearms qualification. The sergeant was concerned about Bellotte, Luman, and Verbosky being on the same firing range as Bellotte had displayed emotional distress in the office. Despite these concerns being elevated to the Constable, nothing was done.
Close Relationship with Diaz
Luman and Verbosky attested, despite being Bellotte’s first- and second-line supervisors, she reported directly to Diaz, took orders from him, and had daily meetings with him. Diaz even personally swore her in on the day of her graduation from the police academy, giving her a ranking her experience did not justify.
Bellotte “reported directly to Constable Diaz,” and none of the other lieutenants had that privilege. “Verbosky stated he regularly did not know what Bellotte’s daily activities were. His belief was that Bellotte and Diaz did not want him to know of Bellotte’s daily activities,” noted the investigator.
Before becoming Precinct 2 Constable, Diaz was the mayor of Jacinto City and Bellotte worked as his parks and recreation director. Her father-in-law also reportedly served as a city manager for Jacinto City, and Diaz’s wife currently serves as the mayor of the city.
Bellotte worked as the chief clerk at the constable’s office prior to becoming a commissioned officer upon graduating the Houston Police Academy in May of 2017.
Despite having no previous commissioned law enforcement experience, on the day of her graduation, Bellotte was commissioned by the Precinct 2 Constable’s Office as a Senior Lieutenant.
Bellotte went from being chief clerk to having a senior management position overseeing commissioned officers, who had more law enforcement experience than she did. The report noted she “regularly exhibited characteristics of inexperience, and was clumsy with authority.” One deputy reportedly refused to address Bellotte as Lieutenant because he considered her undeserving of the rank.
In addressing her rank, Bellotte stated, “I’ve been with him for 20 years,” referring to Diaz, “and a senior lieutenant is 20 years of service.” Those 20 years included her service as parks and recreation director for Jacinto City.
During Bellotte’s interview, in which she included the general counsel for the Coalition of the Police and Sherriff’s Organizations, she denied knowing she wasn’t allowed to change her “exempt” status. She told the investigator that Precinct 2 Chief Clerk Mary Ann Carrion had told her she could be “exempt” or “non-exempt” following graduation from the police academy.
Bellotte also denied taking any items home for personal use, but said she took some home for redistribution to Harvey victims. When the investigator asked her the amount of donations she took home she replied “truck loads.”
When asked about 192 hours of consecutive work, she said she attempted to leave off time to avoid overtime but was directed by Verbosky to report every minute. She also said, surprisingly, she “didn’t notice the check” despite the overtime being significantly higher than her regular salary. “It was a lot of money, but I was out working for the people, I would have done it for nothing,” she said.
At the close of her interview, Bellotte told the investigator “for approximately one year she had been followed, harassed, and received obscene phone calls from spoofed numbers,” alleging “they” have a private investigator digging into “everything she’s ever done.” She accused former Precinct 3 Deputy Constable Jasen Rabalais of coordinating the private investigator. She also claimed “Chief Luman, Assistant Chief Verbosky, Corporal Clark, and Deputy Rodriguez were out to get her.” Along with the reports of her strange behavior, her colleagues reported sensing that she was paranoid.
Despite voluminous testimony from commissioned and non-commissioned employees in the constable’s office, including sworn peace officers, confirmation from the constable himself that Bellotte had violated county personnel policies to illegally obtain overtime, and a Harris County Auditor’s report confirming her alleged actions, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has so far declined to prosecute Bellotte.
Inquiries with the Harris County DA’s Office on the basis of the refusal to prosecute have so far gone unanswered.
Parker’s investigation report was approved in May of 2018 and, while the public version of the audit was released in December, a draft version shows Constable Diaz obtained the report as early as June 22, 2018. Bellotte wasn’t discharged from her duties with the county until December of 2018, nearly six months after this came to light.
Despite the Harris County DA’s office declining to prosecute, taxpayers should demand answers from Constable Chris Diaz and Harris County as to why they allowed an employee who allegedly stole thousands in tax dollars and an uncountable amount of donations intended for Hurricane Harvey victims to stay on county payroll for so long while her actions went unnoticed.