No agency can kill a buzz quicker than the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

by Ty Clevenger

http://lawflog.com/?p=2078

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s chief cop, Victor Kuykendoll, was promoted to the position while he was still under investigation for assaulting another agent, and even after the agency concluded that Kuykendoll had interfered with an ongoing criminal investigation of two of his friends. Meanwhile, the FBI and Travis County District Attorney’s Office are investigating Kuykendoll and other TABC officials (more on that below).

Victor Kyukendoll
Chief of Enforcement
TABC

According to a heavily-redacted report released in response to an open records request, an unnamed agent alleged that he was groped by Kuykendoll and Sgt. Jeffery Farmer while attending a colleague’s retirement party in Waco. I received the report from Darryl Darnell, a retired lieutenant and regular thorn-in-the-side of the TABC brass (may God bless him), who noted that the “investigation” appeared to be an attempt to exonerate Kuykendoll.

 

The assault allegation was “not sustained” by the internal TABC investigator, Lt. Peter Heller, but the report contains findings far more damning than an assault. Consider this excerpt:

According to [TABC Special Investigations Unit] Investigative Reports, on September 13, 2017, Agent Marvin Padgett “saved screen shots showing friends” on the Facebook Page of AC [i.e., “Acting Chief”] Kuykendoll, and one of his “Facebook Friends”, Rami Altrach, was a person on a Terrorist Watch list. Based on this information, SIU opened the investigation into the alleged illegal activity of AC Kuykendoll, [Tom] Noble, and [Wayne] Stovall.

SIU discovered AC Kuykendoll began deleting Facebook pictures related to Rami Alatrach on or before October 27th. In stark contrast to “a couple months after” the October 26th party, that AC Kuykendoll asserted.

Kuykendoll, Noble and Stovall were longtime friends who had worked together in the Waco field office, according to a former TABC agent whom I’ll call “Agent X.” Rami Altrach was a Lebanese national who owned a night club and a car lot in Bell County, according to Agent X, and Agent X was fired by TABC in May after he reported the alleged criminal activity

Here’s the real kicker: At the time that TABC Executive Director Bentley Nettles promoted Kuykendoll to chief, the agency had already “sustained” a finding that Kuykendoll interfered in SIU’s criminal investigation of his buddies, Noble and Stovall. The latest report notes that “AC Kyukendoll was ‘Sustained’ on allegation #8 of (OPR 2018-10) for authorizing the transfer of two agents; which influenced, compromised, and obstructed an OPR and SIU investigation.”

Did Director Nettles and the TABC commissioners know that they were appointing such a tainted cop to lead Texas’s third-largest state law enforcement agency? I asked Director Nettles in an email, and I got a response from TABC spokesman Chris Porter. “Chief Kuykendoll has been a valued member of TABC for many years,” Porter wrote. “He has proven himself time and again as a man of integrity and leadership, and he has the full confidence of the agency’s Executive Director and the Commissioners.”

Oy vey. Does anybody remember the beatdown that Sherry Cook, the former TABC director, got from state legislators two years ago? She was forced into retirement and most of the TABC leadership was driven out because of systemic corruption and cronyism, yet it looks like the organization’s culture is as corrupt as ever.

Elsewhere in his statement, Porter wrote that TABC was unable to comment on whether “outside agencies” were investigating. I’ve reprinted the entire statement at the bottom of the post.

Now, back to Agent X. I can’t just take tips from strangers at face value, so I did a little investigating. Agent X previously worked at another law enforcement agency, and I happen to have known the chief (whom I’ll call “Chief X”) for more than 30 years. The chief described Agent X as a “straight shooter” with no tolerance for dirty cops.

Chief X was also able to corroborate much of what Agent X told me. Agent X said local agencies in Bell County had been trying for years to get TABC to act against Rami Altrach, but the TABC agents always seemed to be running interference. According to Agent X, investigators discovered that numerous cars from Altrach’s car lot had titles assigned to one of Kuykendoll’s TABC buddies.

According to Agent X, he has been cooperating with both the FBI and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, and Kuykendoll was called before the Travis County Grand Jury last week. He said Altrach returned to his native Lebanon shortly after he was interviewed by the FBI.

Agent X also told me about a TABC agent who was recently promoted to major despite a “sustained” finding that he had been deleting records about a nightclub in Dallas. Agent X said the bar had been an ongoing problem for Dallas PD, and that drugs and other evidence from the bar had disappeared from TABC along with the report. I guess the [organic fertilizer] still floats to the top at TABC.

As a native Texan and former cop, I’m disgusted by what I’ve seen in Austin. Too many state officials want to rant and rave about “The Swamp” in DC while ignoring the swamp in Austin. I’ve been active in Republican politics since I was a teenager, but I have to say I’m generally unimpressed with the quality of our overwhelmingly Republican state government.

I could write more, but it’s late, I’m tired, and I don’t get paid to blog. If you’re a real reporter and you’re interested in this story, please email me (tyclevenger at yahoo dot com) and I’ll put you in touch with my sources.

If you’re a lawyer and you would like to work on some civil rights cases (maybe partial contingency), please email me. Since filing the latest lawsuit against DPS, I’ve been inundated with cases from troopers, agents, and rangers all over Texas, and I’m spread too thin. I don’t care whether you’ve handled a civil rights case before, as long as you’re willing to learn. You might make a decent chunk of change if you win, or you might just do it because it’s the right thing.

 

FULL STATEMENT FROM TABC SPOKESMAN CHRIS PORTER

Hello Mr. Clevenger,

The allegations contained in the report you cited were fully investigated by TABC’s Office of Professional Responsibility (now the Office of Inspector General) and were not sustained based on a careful review of available evidence. These findings are fully outlined in the report, which was released under the Public Information Act.

TABC holds each of its employees to the highest standards of conduct and professionalism. This agency’s leaders are expected to exemplify the agency’s core values of service, integrity, accountability and customer service. As such, we take any allegations of misconduct extremely seriously and thoroughly investigate all complaints against agency employees and leaders. In this case, the allegations against Chief Kuykendoll were not sustained and do not warrant further action.

TABC is unable to comment on any investigations by outside agencies or groups. However, we will cooperate fully with any investigation which is brought before the agency and will take appropriate action based on the findings.

Chief Kuykendoll has been a valued member of TABC for many years. He has proven himself time and again as a man of integrity and leadership, and he has the full confidence of the agency’s Executive Director and the Commissioners.

Chris Porter
Public Information Officer
Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

 

No agency can kill a buzz quicker than the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

But behind the scenes state liquor regulators have shown they know how to party — all on the tab of taxpayers and members of an industry they oversee.

Consider the boozy junket the top TABC brass took to San Diego in the summer of 2015 — depicted in a humorous illustration officials created during work hours at the agency. It portrays agency director Sherry Cook, licensing chief Amy Harrison, a TABC analyst and an agency contractor riding in a plane while holding or guzzling from bottles of Lone Star Beer.

“Here we come California!” reads the caption above the doctored picture. “Woo Hoo!!!”

This graphic humorously references a trip that top state liquor regulators took to the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators in 2015 at a cost of more than $7,000 in taxpayer money. The illustration was created by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission during work hours on a state computer with input from top agency officials, records show. Pictured from left to right are TABC Director Sherry Cook, Licensing Director Amy Harrison, Analyst Jesse Valdez and then-TABC technology contractor Jim Harrison.