Chief of Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission shoots the messenger, denies corruption charges
by Ty Clevenger
It’s the holiday season, and joy and peace abound everywhere… if you’re watching the Hallmark Channel.
Early this morning (a Sunday, in case you didn’t notice), the executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sent a nastygram to one of his critics, defending the agency’s top cop against corruption charges.
As I reported on Friday, the FBI and Travis County District Attorney’s Office are investigating alleged corruption in the agency, and the TABC itself has already concluded that its chief of enforcement, Victor Kuykendoll, interfered in a criminal investigation to help his friends. Internal investigators also concluded that Chief Kuykendoll lied during the investigation in order to hide his relationship with an organized crime suspect.
In a 6:27 a.m. email, TABC executive director A. Bentley Nettles shrugged off these incidents as nothing more than “managerial misjudgment” by Chief Kuykendoll. Then Mr. Nettles turned his sights on retired TABC lieutenant Darryl Darnell, the man who has spent nearly three years exposing corruption at TABC.
Mr. Nettles alleged that Mr. Darnell had a “bone to pick” with Chief Kuykendoll, and that Mr. Darnell had been fired from TABC and escorted out of the building. In a response sent this afternoon, Mr. Darnell said he retired honorably after 25 years and was never escorted from TABC premises, but instead was the guest of honor at a retirement party hosted by the agency.
If Mr. Darnell is right (and I have no reason to doubt him), it looks like Mr. Nettles has set himself up for a defamation lawsuit. I’ve reprinted the full email exchange below, but a couple of things are worth highlighting:
- According to Mr. Darnell, the TABC is fighting his open records request for the results of an employee survey, apparently because the results are, in the words of agency lawyers, too “embarrassing.”
- In his email, Mr. Nettles wrote about refusing to meet with “Sherry and Ed.” He seems to be referring to his predecessor as executive director, Sherry Cook, and Cook’s deputy, Ed Swedberg. Ironically, Mrs. Cook was driven out of the agency in 2017 largely as a result of the corruption that Mr. Darnell exposed that year. In other words, Mr. Nettles arguably owes his job to none other than Darryl Darnell, the man whom he now accuses of having a vendetta against the agency.
In one of his emails to Mr. Nettles, Mr. Darnell suggested that Mr. Nettles had fallen under the malign influence of some lousy TABC employees who should have been purged along with Sherry Cook. Mr. Darnell does not mention any names, but allow me to propose one: Albert Rodriguez, the former commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s police academy who now serves as TABC’s director of training.
Read the last half of my June 29, 2016 blog post, and particularly the excerpt from a 2015 Houston Press article that mentions Rodriguez. The normally easygoing U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt lost his temper after concluding that Rodriguez was lying in order to cover up police misconduct:
[Judge] Hoyt accused Rodriguez of concocting an elaborate, ridiculous story “to cover for his true reasons for coming to Houston — to coach the officers and to make certain that their testimony would conform to the facts that supported his opinion.” As to the trustworthiness of Rodriguez’s testimony, Hoyt had this to say: “It is like the cuttlefish squirting out ink in an effort to escape. Rodriguez’s testimony is just another stream of endless, irrepressible repetition of half-truths.”
The judge even challenged the very theory Rodriguez had spun for the defense. Ibarra, Hoyt wrote, committed no crime by filming officers. The mere possibility that someone might commit a future crime — in this case, retaliation against an officer — does not constitute probable cause. Hoyt wrote that Rodriguez’s analysis of the case “contravenes well settled legal theories” and promotes “lawlessness.”
As I wrote at the time, “Rodriguez’s career as an expert witness is probably finished, but Rodriguez’s career with the state is not.” And now, nearly four years after the Houston Press published its article, Rodriguez is still training law enforcement officers at TABC.
Let me give you a little more background on Mr. Rodriguez. After I published the 2016 post, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement opened an investigation of the training that Mrs. Cook received at a police academy run by her husband, marvelous Maurice Cook, the former Texas Ranger, space cowboy and gangster of love. The pompitous Mr. Cook was forced out of the Texas Rangers in the 90s under dubious circumstances, and the knuckleheads in Bastrop County recently elected him as their sheriff after he campaigned on “family values,” among other things (Hint: Sherry and Maurice met at work, and Sherry is not his first wife). But I digress.
According to TCOLE’s executive director, Kim Vickers, Mr. Rodriguez showed up at the police academy while TCOLE agents were investigating Mrs. Cook, purportedly so he (i.e., Mr. Rodriguez) could ask his own questions. Mr. Vickers told me that he and his agents construed that as an attempt by Mr. Rodriguez to interfere in their investigation of Mrs. Cook, who was Mr. Rodriguez’s boss at the time. From all appearances, the tainted Mr. Rodriguez was doing damage control for the tainted Mrs. Cook.
There’s a cloud of stink all around Albert Rodriguez, just like there’s a cloud of stink all around Victor Kuykendoll, and just like there was a cloud of stink all around Sherry Cook and Ed Swedberg. Yet Mr. Nettles keeps Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Kuykendoll on his leadership team anyway. In fact, he promoted Mr. Kuykendoll to chief notwithstanding the ongoing criminal investigations and TABC’s own findings of misconduct.
Mr. Nettles can boast all day long about his plans to reform TABC, but he has already shown us his true colors, and he doesn’t look like much of a reformer.
EMAIL EXCHANGE BETWEEN BENTLEY NETTLES AND DARRYL DARNELL
Mr. Darnell first emailed a copy of my Friday blog post to Mr. Nettles with the following message: “MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!! This Legislative Session is going to be FUN !!!!!!!“ Everything below is chronological, and the email string was cc’d to the TABC commissioners, State Rep. Sarah Davis, and State Senator Brian Birdwell:
Email from Bentley Nettles to Darryl Darnell, Saturday, December 22, 2018 5:27 AM:
MERRY Christmas to you and your family
We will keep you and all law enforcement in our prayers this holiday season for your continued safety
I’m looking forward to this legislative session to continue to show how the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has transformed and is transforming into one of the elite regulatory and law enforcement organizations in the nation
Email from Darryl Darnell to Bentley Nettles, Saturday, December 22, 2018 9:27:17 AM:
Thank you for your thoughts.
I reached out to you numerous times and offered to meet with you regarding “things” I knew about the TABC from the previous position I held has Internal Inspector. You ignored the offer.
You are a great military leader but it really surprises me that you elected to keep some of the problems around and even promote them. Then to read that you yourself compromised the SUI Investigation and hear that you tried to stop the AG Investigation of Kuykendoll by having Chief Saenz contact the AG Chief to try and stop the criminal investigation. (Yes I also have friends in other LE organizations) The TABC OPR or OIG Division is a joke as evident by the way they conduct investigations and then have to go back and do it over again. But then again your OPR investigator was hired by former OPR Captain Andy Pena so no surprise.
I am sure your recent leadership survey reflects what I am saying otherwise you would not be expending tax dollars to attempt to prevent its release to the public and your own employees.
By the way maybe you can get Mr. Dement follow TABC policy and advise me of the disposition of the OPR complaint I filed with him regarding violations of the DOL Wage & Hour Laws.
Happy New Year Mr. Nettles I heard you took off til after January 1st , enjoy your vacation !!
Email from Bentley Nettles to Darryl Darnell, Sunday, December 23, 2018 6:27 AM
As usual you have your facts wrong but then the truth never interfered with your agenda.
It surprises me you have so much time to focus on an agency from which you were retired in lieu of termination and unceremoniously escorted from the building.
My job is to transform this agency to become the elite regulatory and law enforcement agency the citizens of Texas deserve. Which the results of drug buys, organized crime and human trafficking arrests at permitted locations show we are on the right track.
I obviously hurt your feelings by not responding to your repeated offers to meet and give you an audience to grind whatever axe you have due to perceived wrongs with current employees of the TABC. I also have not met with Sherry or Ed for the same reason, I have no intention of moving the agency backward, but instead have chosen a new path to reestablish the reputation for the hard working men and women of this agency.
You seem to have a bone to pick with Chief Kuykendyal. Which is strange because he is a hard worker and cares deeply for the agents with whom he works Which it is clear you don’t because you continue to try to smear the agency with as much dirt as possible which of course reflects upon them.
As for Kuykendyal he was cleared administratively of all allegations except for a managerial misjudgment for which he was counseled. Out of an abundance of caution we referred the allegations outside the agency for review. These were referred out by the same OIG employees you are disparaging and I asked them to periodically re-engage to see if the outside investigators needed assistance and if anything had been substantiated. Of course you know nothing has, no charges or indictment has happened. Yet that hasn’t stopped you from viciously attacking Chief Kuykendyal and others in the agency.
You are correct, I’m on holiday with my family as are a lot of employees at the agency, but like most EDs I’m never truly off and am in constant contact with the agency because there are dedicated men and women of the TABC who are in the field working hard to restore the reputation of the agency that you and others chose to destroy.
Constable Darnell I hope you find a new hobby, your 15 minutes of fame attacking the men and women of the TABC is over as for as I’m concerned. I have more important things to do such as run the TABC instead of bantering back and forth with you over email.
I am however a Christian and my prayers for your safety will continue.
Email from Darryl Darnell to Bentley Nettles, Sunday, December 23, 2018 11:53 AM
I am requesting that you immediately produce official documents that support your statement that I was retired in lieu of termination. If what you state is true then Robert Saenz falsified the official documents he submitted to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
I was not escorted out of the building, as a matter of fact, I retained my commission until my official retirement date at which time I was issued a Special Agent Commission by the TABC. I was also given a retirement party hosted by the TABC at Coopers BBQ, TABC produced the invitation attached to this email. After my honorable retirement and seeing things continue to deteriorate at TABC I decided to exposed Sherry Cook and her staff for their unethical behavior and most were removed from office but some remained and befriended you.
I supported Mr. Lilly’s appointment and also your employment hoping for fresh leadership and that you would move the agency forward which you have to some extent. You, however, have also chosen to keep and promote employees that are unethical and do not know what leadership is. Kuykendoll is not respected by the majority of the agents because they know about his past and continuing unethical behavior and how you protect him much like the military protects inept officers and just moves them around. Nothing has happened criminally because the Travis Co. Grand Jury has not yet decided on the matter and it is still under investigation by the Travis Co District Attorney.
Your own TABC lawyers have stated to the AG’s open records office that the results of your tax payer financed employee Leadership Study are an “embarrassment” to the agency and have asked that it be withheld from public disclosure. It is so bad you will not even share it with your employees. All past surveys, good and bad, were openly shared with the employees of TABC.
Rest assured I am going to continue to work and make sure that the TABC, an agency that I spent 25+ years of my life at, is run by ethical leadership and the public knows what is going on. The majority of your employees and “boots on the ground” support my efforts and I will continue to support them.
By the way why are you still are allowing Sherry Cook to daily represent the TABC as a TABC Special Agent when she was removed from office for cause according to Senator Birdwell.
As they say here in Brooklyn, “I got your Merry Christmas right here, punk!”