DALLAS (AP) – A Texas attorney says he found a tracking device on his pickup truck during an escalating legal battle with a businessman at the center of an FBI investigation into Attorney General Ken Paxton.
In a lawsuit on Monday, Steve Lemmon gave no evidence of how the tracker got on his truck and admitted not knowing who parked it there. But he said “the surveillance clearly appears to be linked to his case with Nate Paul” and that trackers have also been found by other people the property developer considers “adversaries”.
It is generally a crime for anyone other than law enforcement to put a tracker on someone else’s vehicle in Texas. While the devices’ origins are unclear, their discovery adds an espionage-driven intrigue to the Imbroglio of Paxton and Paul, the contested developer the Republican is accused of breaking the law to help.
A person familiar with the matter said the FBI is investigating the origins of the tracking devices. The person spoke on condition of anonymity as the investigation is ongoing. The FBI declined to comment.
Paul’s attorney Michael Wynne called the suggestion that his client had something to do with the devices “shocking”. During a sworn testimony last year, he protested and told Paul he didn’t have to answer many questions, even through trackers.
“I have absolutely no reason to believe that Mr. Paul would have anything to do with anything like this and would expect Mr. Lemmon to have soundproofing before making this type of flammable allegation,” Wynne told The Associated Press.
Lemmon, who refused to comment, said in the court record that the FBI “held” the device found on his truck. He didn’t name the other people he says found trackers.
Paul has been under investigation by the FBI since at least 2019. Last year he launched a counter-allegation campaign against agents, federal judges and others, including Lemmon’s clients. Paxton hired an outside attorney to investigate these allegations in September and had eight of his top MPs report him to the FBI, which opened an investigation with the chief Texas attorney.
Paxton has largely denied wrongdoing. His defense attorney Philip Hilder declined to comment when asked about the tracking devices on Monday.
Keith Byers, a Houston area attorney who previously oversaw FBI corruption cases, said the illegal installation of trackers was uncommon in the U.S., even for street gangs and drug cartels.
“Anyone who resorts to installing illegal tracking devices in their opponents’ vehicles is either highly motivated, desperate, unstable, or completely unaware of the consequences,” said Byers.
Employing a woman Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair with, Paul faces lawsuits from creditors and disgruntled business associates across the country.
His legal challenges include a longstanding lawsuit from an Austin nonprofit that has a financial interest in Paul’s business. Lemmon is the court-appointed overseer for some of Paul’s businesses and has played a significant role in the controversial litigation.
Lemmon announced that he found the tracking device in a quarterly report the overseer filed in the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation’s lawsuit.
Last summer, Paxton’s office intervened in this case. A move some of his MPs said in a whistleblower lawsuit was inappropriately aimed at forcing a solution in Paul’s favor. A few weeks later, Paxton hired a defense attorney in Houston to investigate Paul’s unconfirmed claims that Lemmon’s client and the foundation’s attorney were part of an elaborate conspiracy to steal Paul’s $ 200 million property.
Wynne said Lemmon’s claims about the tracking devices are “another attempt to divert attention from the fraudulent financial system.” Lemmon dismissed Paul’s allegations as “ridiculous”.
Attorney Paxton hired to investigate the developer’s claims was a 2015 law school graduate with no experience as a prosecutor and no ties to Wynne.
Paxton closed the investigation in October after allegations of bribery and abuse of office against him became public. Six days later, Lemmon said, a mechanic found the tracking device while he was doing routine maintenance on his truck.
Lemmon said the FBI still had the tracker and the agents asked to meet with him, his client and his legal partner a week after he found him. At the meeting, Lemmon said, they learned that Paul had asked Paxton to investigate the developer’s conspiracy claims.
Two weeks later, Lemmon asked Paul under oath about tracking devices. He asked a series of questions about whether Paul ever had investigators put a tracker on the vehicle of people involved in legal proceedings with him, according to a transcript of the deposit received from the AP.
Wynne said the questions were irrelevant to the case and were “harassing and offensive”. He told Paul not to answer.