WASHINGTON - Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Tim Johnson today announced the conviction of a former trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety who was charged with depriving multiple motorists of their civil rights. The jury returned guilty verdicts on all four counts of the indictment that charged Michael Anthony Higgins with violating federal law by willfully stealing money from motorists that he had stopped on the highway while working as a trooper. The jury’s verdicts were returned today after one and one-half hours of deliberation in federal court in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Higgins was prosecuted for stopping motorists who appeared to be of Hispanic descent and stealing their money, usually in amounts of several hundred dollars. As a result of the civilian complaints, the Department of Public Safety (DPS), in conjunction with the Texas Rangers, initiated an undercover operation to investigate Higgins. An undercover officer posed as a civilian of Hispanic descent with limited English language ability. The undercover officer was issued several pre-recorded $100 bills. While being monitored by DPS aerial surveillance, the undercover officer drove past Higgins’ duty area in Kleberg County and was eventually stopped by Higgins. Upon making the traffic stop, Higgins asked the undercover officer for money in his possession and then took the money behind the passenger side door of his patrol vehicle.
After Higgins returned bills to the officer, the officer realized that some of the money was missing. Texas Rangers and DPS officers confronted Higgins and, upon inspection of the patrol vehicle, found two of the pre-recorded $100 bills secreted in the passenger side door pocket which was next to the area where Higgins had gone to count the money.
"The defendant abused the power granted to him as a law enforcement officer to prey upon unsuspecting motorists for personal gain. He violated not only the law, but also the public trust," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "I commend the Department of Public Safety and the FBI for their thorough investigation."
"This defendant’s duty was to protect and defend motorists, not to profile drivers and steal their money," said Tim Johnson, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. "We commend the action of the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers to investigate the civilian complaints quickly and that of the FBI to further the investigation leading to today’s convictions."
Higgins faces a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison, restitution and a $400,000 fine. Sentencing has been set for April 20, 2010.
The case was investigated by the FBI, Texas Rangers and Officers of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Jim Felte from the Civil Rights Division.