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Texas Legislator Who Helped Prisoners’ Families Indicted, Convicted, Sentenced

For 14 years, Texas State Rep. Terri Hodge (D-Dallas) was a staunch defender of minorities and prisoners’ rights in the Texas legislature. On October 1, 2007, federal prosecutors indicted Hodge on 14 counts of corruption including bribery, fraud and conspiracy. The indictment created a firestorm of controversy.

The 31-count main indictment named a number of prominent Dallas citizens including former city council member and Mayor Pro Tem Donald W. Hill. Also named, and most closely connected to Hodge, was real estate developer Brian L. Potashnik and his wife Cheryl.

Rep. Hodge and other defendants were accused of accepting bribes in return for providing letters of support to help Potashnik’s company, Southwest Housing, obtain lucrative tax credits for building low-income apartments in southern Dallas.

Outspoken, Hodge passionately professed her innocence. “People say that I got paid for this, man, that’s (expletive). I’m not the only elected official that has given a letter to developers putting projects in their districts. I guess what really tied me in is not only had I given a letter, I was living in one of his affordable apartments.”

In August 2008, Rep. Hodge’s attorneys petitioned the federal district court in Dallas to try her separately from the other defendants. While the indictment named several politicians, Hodge was the only one still in office at the time.

Helga Dill, chairwoman of Texas CURE, an advocacy group for prisoners, said “I am definitely defending her to the utmost for the work she has done in behalf of inmates and their families. She should be recognized for the honorable work that she has done.”

Criminal Court Judge John Creuzot echoed that sentiment. When advised not to include Hodge’s name on his primary campaign materials, he responded, “She hasn’t been convicted of anything. She’s my friend, and I’m proud to have her name on my campaign material.”

Before she was indicted Rep. Hodge was criticized for helping prisoners and their families by arranging rare face-to-face meetings between parole-eligible prisoners and members of the parole board, helping obtain the dismissal of disciplinary charges against prisoners which might otherwise prevent them from being paroled, using a rarely-used legislative privilege to obtain prisoners’ otherwise highly-secret parole files, and helping prisoners transfer to facilities closer to their families. [See: PLN, Aug. 2006, p.24].

In other words, for being compassionate to prisoners and their family members and treating them like the other constituents she represented as an elected official.

Following her indictment, Rep. Hodge said the hardest part was having to beg for money for her criminal defense fund, though she raised almost $200,000. She also criticized the black community for not being more supportive. “A lot of the people who support me don’t look like me,” she said. “The least support I’m getting is from the African-American community.”

The prosecution took its toll on Hodge, 69. “If I thought just being here doing my job would have caused me the kind of problems and misery and pain and worry and disgust, I never would have sought this position,” she stated.

In the end, however, as with so many prosecutions, Rep. Hodge agreed to a plea bargain.
She pleaded guilty to tax fraud in February 2010, related to her failure to report approximately $30,000 in income she received from the Potashniks, including rent, utility payments and home improvements. She resigned from the Texas legislature but did not plead guilty or admit to the bribery charges.

Prosecutors had also claimed that she misused more than $40,000 in campaign contributions, including “payments from families of Texas prison inmates in return for her political support and assistance on proceedings affecting the inmate before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.” Hodge has denied such allegations.

Former Texas Parole Board member Brendolyn Rogers Johnson spoke on Hodge’s behalf at her sentencing hearing. “Ms. Hodge is a lady of integrity, compassion and is relentless in her pursuit of fairness and justice for all,” said Johnson. “I have personally witnessed her work tirelessly for the people in her district, as well as those who called upon her for assistance.”

Hodge was sentenced in April 2010 to one year in federal prison, the maximum she could receive under her plea agreement.

“I want to apologize to my constituents and all the people who have supported me over the past 14 years,” she said. “My actions have cast a bad light on many other elected officials. What I’ve done has contributed to some people’s distrust of the political system. All I can say is I am truly sorry for my mistakes.” She reported to federal prison on June 22, 2010.

Former Mayor Pro Tem Donald Hill was convicted in October 2009 of being the ringleader of the bribery scheme, and received an 18-year prison sentence. His wife, Sheila Farrington Hill, was sentenced to 9 years while former Dallas Plan Commissioner D’Angelo Lee received 14 years. The Potashniks pleaded guilty and were sentenced on December 17, 2010. Brian Potashnik received a 15-month prison sentence and was ordered to forfeit $1.25 million to the City of Dallas; his wife was sentenced to two years’ probation, and both were fined $50,000 each.

Sources: Dallas Morning News, www.txcn.com