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State Rep. Joe Driver To Get Five Years Probation

A humbled Rep. Joe Driver, the Garland Republican who illegally pocketed state travel money, pleaded guilty to felony abuse-of-office charges Tuesday and agreed to five years' probation.

As part of his plea agreement, Driver will get five years deferred adjudication, avoiding jail time as long as he doesn't violate the terms of his probation. After spending about an hour at the Travis County Courthouse waiting to enter his plea, Driver made a brief statement to reporters.

“Basically, my family and I are thankful that this has been resolved,” Driver said. The longtime lawmaker’s attorney, Dan Guthrie, said Driver may have more to say after his sentencing on Dec. 19.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who led the prosecution of Driver, said her office would continue to pursue allegations of official misconduct by Texas legislators.

“Misuse of taxpayer money violates the public’s trust,” Lehmberg said. “It is most egregious in these hard economic times.”

Driver recently announced that he will leave the Legislature at the end of his current term. Last year, Driver acknowledged that for years he had been submitting identical receipts, for airfare, fancy hotels and other expenses, to his campaign and to the Texas House of Representatives.

The Garland Republican admitted to the double-billing in an interview but said he thought the practice was appropriate — until a reporter asked him about it.

“Well, it doesn’t sound like it is now, if you bring it up that way,” Driver said.

“It pretty well screws my week,” Driver added.

Driver announced that he had reimbursed his campaign about $50,000 after the details of his billing practices were revealed publicly. Prosecutors said Tuesday that Driver would repay about $14,000 more, bringing the total amount repaid to $63,748.36.

Driver will also pay a $5,000 fine and undergo any treatment or counseling recommended by the probation department.

Jay Root is a native of Liberty. He never knew any reporters growing up, and he has never taken a journalism class in his life. But somehow he got hooked on the news business. It all started when he walked into the offices of The Daily Texan, his college newspaper, during his last year at the University of Texas in 1987. He couldn't the resist the draw: it was the the biggest collection of misfits ever assembled. After graduating, he took a job at a Houston chemical company and realized it wasn't for him. Soon he was applying for an unpaid internship at the Houston Post in 1990, and it turned into a full-time job that same year. He has been a reporter ever since. He has covered natural disasters, live music and Texas politics — not necessarily in that order. He was Austin bureau chief of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for a dozen years, most of them good. He also covered politics and the Legislature for The Associated Press before joining the staff of the Tribune.