The Texas Rangers have launched a criminal investigation into Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller's use of taxpayer funds to bankroll two out-of-state trips, the Department of Public Safety confirmed Wednesday.
The investigation follows complaints filed by the liberal advocacy group Progress Texas, which asked the department's investigative unit to review two state-paid trips the Stephenville Republican took in February 2015 after media reports indicating he may have traveled for personal benefit, including to participate in a rodeo and to receive a controversial injection known as "the Jesus Shot."
“All the facts point to Sid Miller breaking the law,” Lucy Stein, the group's advocacy director, said in a statement. “As a steward of the people’s money, Sid Miller must be held accountable for abusing his office. We are hopeful that the Texas Rangers will conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into Miller’s criminal conduct."
In an interview with The Texas Tribune on Wednesday prior to news of the investigation, Miller said there was "absolutely no validity" to the group's complaints and called them "harassment."
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“There’s nothing absolutely illegal or wrong with either of those trips," he said.
In March, the Houston Chronicle first reported Miller's trip to Oklahoma to obtain a so-called "Jesus Shot," which some believe cures all pain for life. Miller said he made the trip so he could tour the Oklahoma National Stockyards and meet with Oklahoma officials. But when those officials were contacted by the Chronicle, they said they had no plans to meet with him that day. Internal emails from the Agriculture Department later indicated that Miller had planned the trip around receiving the shot. After details about the trip became public, Miller said he would repay the state for the trip out of an "abundance of caution."
Miller also traveled to Mississippi in February on the state's dime. While there, Miller, who is a calf roper, participated in the National Dixie Rodeo. When asked about the trip, the Agriculture Department gave contradictory reports to media outlets.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Miller took the state-paid trip to Mississippi to participate in the National Dixie Rodeo but later repaid the state with campaign and personal funds. He told the Chronicle that the intent of the trip was to meet with agriculture officials there, making it a legitimate state-covered business trip. Miller said after those meetings fell through, he repaid the state for the trip with campaign funds because he also met with donors and advisers during that time.
More than a week before the Chronicle story, Miller's then-communications director Lucy Nashed told the Tribune that the Mississippi trip — which was always designed to be a personal trip — was mistakenly booked by a staffer as a business trip. Once the staffer realized the trip was personal, Nashed said, Miller repaid the state for the trip.
Earlier this week, Nashed resigned, saying there was a "tremendous lack of communication" at the department.
Terri Langford contributed reporting to this story.