A playhouse is usually the center of children’s games, but one in Wise County is now the focus of a theft investigation involving Precinct 4 County Commissioner Terry Ross.
The playhouse was seized from the Ross home in Boonsville when Texas Rangers executed a search warrant Tuesday afternoon.
Although Rangers Jim Hicks and Jim Holland could not comment, they say in the search warrant affidavit that Ross admitted to using taxpayer dollars to purchase construction materials for the playhouse and that county employees worked on the playhouse on county time.
The affidavit says it could be considered theft by a public servant, a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to two years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Ross, who’s serving his third term as county commissioner, refused to comment in a phone call Thursday morning and said he “would have [his attorney] call.” Ross is being represented by Barry Green, former district attorney for Wise and Jack counties.
Green did not call by press time Friday, and he didn’t return Messenger calls to him Wednesday or Thursday.
According to the affidavit, “… Commissioner Ross stated he utilized supplies purchased by himself and a county employee using Wise County funds to build a playhouse intended for his grandchildren. Ross and multiple county employees stated the playhouse was built in the Wise County Precinct 4 county-owned barn.
“During the interview, Ross admitted that county employees completed the work on the playhouse while being paid by Wise County.”
Rangers say in the affidavit that supplies purchased included 2-by-6 treated wood boards, screws, plywood, electrical wire and switches. The amount of money in question is not mentioned in the affidavit, and requests for copies of the associated receipts were denied because it is an ongoing investigation.
When the playhouse was seized, a string of law enforcement vehicles and trucks hauling equipment from the county’s Public Works Department arrived about 2:30 p.m. at the residence just off Farm Road 920, on County Road 3741.
Public Works employees and an inmate work crew dismantled the exterior features of the camouflage structure, which was located under a tree.
The 10×13 building sat on stilts and had a ladder, balcony and climbing wall. Investigators removed a paintball gun and small refrigerator from inside before using a front-end loader to remove the playhouse from its stilts.
It was loaded on a trailer and hauled from the site.
Ranger Hicks’ report will be submitted to District Attorney Greg Lowery who will review it and decide if a criminal act has occurred.
If he makes this determination, the case will go to the grand jury for possible indictment.
Ross was first elected in 2002. He defeated two-term Democratic incumbent Paul Wood. In 2006, Ross defeated Democrat Kenneth Fuqua.
Wood changed parties and ran against Ross in the 2010 Republican primary. Ross won that election 944 to 862.
Green was district attorney in Wise County when a similar case was prosecuted in 1999. Mikel Richardson, who was county auditor at the time, was indicted in June of that year for theft by a public servant for using county money to purchase $895 in construction materials that were used to build a personal storage building.
Green reduced the charge to a misdemeanor, theft more than $500 and less than $1,500, as part of a plea deal. Richardson served two years probation and 80 hours community service.
County auditor is an appointed position, and Richardson was permanently removed from that post in September of 1999 following the plea deal.
Because Richardson was not convicted of the original felony charges, he was able to run for Precinct 3 county commissioner in 2000. He was serving his third term when he died in November 2009.