Nearly a month after the Harris County District Attorney dropped barratry charges against Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, the personal injury attorney faces a new round of legal trouble.
According to KHOU-TV in Houston, the Montgomery County district attorney has issued arrest warrants for Reynolds and seven other Houston-area attorneys on barratry charges connected to an alleged quarter-million-dollar kickback scheme. Authorities raided the offices of all of those individuals, as well as two chiropractic offices, on Monday morning searching for evidence of a conspiracy to lure patients, inflate injuries and bank millions of dollars from fraudulent insurance claims.
The Tribune has reached out to Reynolds and will update this story when he responds.
Often referred to as "ambulance chasing," barratry is the illegal practice of offering legal services to accident victims within 30 days of the incident. The white-collar crime is a third-degree felony in Texas punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
Reynolds and the other attorneys are accused of paying kickbacks to Robert Valdez, who has partial ownership in two chiropractic clinics and is the alleged ringleader behind the operation, according to KHOU. Phil Grant, the first assistant Montgomery County district attorney, told the CBS affiliate that Valdez "would routinely scour through accident reports, then approach and pressure crash victims to sign contracts for legal representation."
Valdez, 47, could not immediately be reached for comment. According to the arrest warrant issued for him this morning, he's currently serving time in the Montgomery County jail for an unrelated assault charge.
"We have information from a confidential informant that Ron Reynolds delivered cash in envelopes to Mr. Valdez, in exchange for referring clients to him on numerous occasions," Grant told the TV station.
Reynolds was arrested last year after an undercover investigation by the Harris County district attorney’s office determined a chiropractic firm was persuading patients to sign contracts naming him as their legal counsel before the patients had physical exams or met him. Reynolds vehemently denied the accusations and maintained his innocence, adding that he had "voted for new laws holding lawyers guilty of barratry more accountable to their victims.”
The charges were dropped after two investigators involved in the case came under fire for, among other things, allegedly stealing evidence. The case was one of dozens jeopardized because it involved the discredited investigators.
Grant told KHOU that after Reynolds' case was dismissed, "it appears that he got right back in" the kickback game.
He said Montgomery County picked up the case because Valdez is a resident of that county, and because an informant came forward with detailed information. Grant alleged that Valdez signed up hundreds of clients each year, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks. His office's investigation showed a simple fender bender would fetch $600 to $700 in kickbacks, whereas an accident involving a school bus or commercial vehicle would bring in $6,000 to $7,000.
At one point, Grant alleged, Valdez even ran the operation from inside the Montgomery County Jail as an inmate, incarcerated on an unrelated charge.
Prosecutors around the state have seen the number of barratry cases increase after a law passed during the 82nd Legislature allowed victims of unlawful solicitations to recover actual damages and fees. Even a potential client who never signed a contract can recover a civil penalty of $10,000 from a person who committed barratry under the 2011 law.
KHOU-TV Investigative Reporter Jeremy Rogalski filed the following report.