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Conservative group planted an intern in state lawmaker's office, former intern testifies

In addition to taking covert videos of Texas lawmakers in 2015, the American Phoenix Foundation allegedly planted an intern in state Rep. James White's office in 2013 in an attempt to catch the Hillister Republican engaging in fraud.

A representative of the American Phoenix Foundation questions state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, outside the House chamber on May 13, 2015.

The American Phoenix Foundation — a now-defunct conservative activist group known for attempting undercover stings of lawmakers and lobbyists — planted an intern in a Texas state lawmaker’s office during the 2013 legislative session in an effort to expose misdeeds, testimony in federal court revealed Thursday.

Shaughn Adeleye, testifying in Houston in the federal fraud case against former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, said in court Thursday that he was planted in the office of state Rep. James White to obtain footage of the Hillister Republican engaged in “fraud and abuse” and also in more mundane activities like cursing or failing to tidy his messy car, according to Quorum Report.

Stockman funded that effort in an attempt to uncover “salacious” gossip about a perceived political rival, according to testimony Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reported. The former congressman stands accused of illegally using charitable donations to cover political and personal expenses, among a total of 28 criminal charges.

Stockman was concerned that White would give up his state House seat to challenge him for Congress. “Republicans love black conservatives. I'm worried,” Stockman fretted in a text to a political ally, according to testimony Thursday.

Adeleye told prosecutors Thursday that he accepted the undercover job because he was told he’d be ferreting out corruption, but it ultimately became clear his supervisors were hoping for embarrassing material about White, who is the only black Republican in the Legislature. He was told “a good video of [White] saying anything crazy would be ideal,” according to an email shown in court.

“These were just such odd requests,” Adeleye said Thursday.

The American Phoenix Foundation filmed Texas lobbyists and lawmakers back in 2015, and the group’s membership has ties to James O’Keefe, a conservative political activist infamous for his shady tactics

Reached Thursday, White said he remembers Adeleye working as an unpaid intern in his office in 2013 and that he didn’t observe any odd behavior at the time. He seemed less than impressed with the conservative group’s apparent efforts to undermine his credibility.

“Let me tell you what’s stupid about that — all they had to do was just go run the open records request and get my office budget, right? They don’t even know how to do ‘corruption,’” he said.

And the group’s efforts to find embarrassing material about him are ludicrous, White said.

“Yeah, in the middle of session when I’m going back and forth I may have changes of clothes in my car,” he said. “Wow. Wow. I work out of my truck. Yeah.”

The FBI reached out to White — who also testified Thursday — a year and a half ago in relation to the Stockman trial, and FBI personnel informed him that he had been surveilled, he said.

“One part of me, I want to laugh. Another part of me, I’m a little upset — and disappointed for the taxpayers,” White said.

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Courts State government James White