By Defender News Service
December 4, 2019
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has returned more than $2 million to crime victims so far this year after modernizing a process and adding more staff to the Victim Services Division.
“Crime victims are the only unwilling part of the criminal justice system so they deserve to be made whole when we can do it,” Ogg said.
The money comes from defendants who have agreed to pay back their victims as part of their punishment, Ogg said.
“Every crime victim I’ve ever talked to said they felt violated. Repayment can go a long way toward fixing the damage that was done,” Ogg continued. “Money matters to people, and this is common sense criminal justice reform.”
Recent cases that have seen restitution paid back to victims include a man who stole more than $800,000 from a local church, a soccer mom who took more than $300,000 from her child’s soccer league, and an elderly woman who was ripped off by a man pretending to be a roofing contractor.
For years the system had been mismanaged.
Before Ogg became the district attorney, millions of dollars that defendants paid to victims sat in checks in old files and was routinely turned over to the state’s general fund when the money went unclaimed.
In 2009, the system was so mismanaged that a clerk, Eloise Mireles, was able to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from victims. She was arrested and pleaded guilty to theft for stealing cashier’s checks and money orders. Her theft of more than $255,000 was possible because there was no oversight.
“This office was not technology appropriate when I took office in 2017,” Ogg said. “In years past, victims were promised restitution, but that didn’t always happen.”
With new safeguards in place and upgraded technology, the system is faster, easier and there is more accountability.
“The technology was antiquated so we updated it, we re-organized staff and we put in a simple system to make it work better,” Ogg said.
For many defendants who are seeking leniency, judges and prosecutors take restitution into consideration. Paying back victims is often a condition in plea deals to resolve cases like home and car burglaries, thefts, contractor fraud, embezzlement and criminal mischief.