James (Jim) Edward Russell and Carla Jean Russell were indicted by the Gonzales County Grand Jury Tuesday, Nov. 5 each on one count of misapplication of fiduciary property or property of a financial institution in the amount of $30,000 or more but less than $150,000 and one count of theft by public servant also in the amount of $30,000 or more but less than $150,000. The charges are graded as a third-degree felony and second-degree felony respectively.
Both Jim and Carla Russell were initially arrested on June 4, 2018 following a lengthy investigation into allegations of misappropriation of Gonzales County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) funds. Jim Russell previously served as the EMS director while Carla Russell was the EMS’ acting bookkeeper. While Jim Russell was under investigation by several law enforcement agencies in Jan. 2018, the EMS board placed him on administrative leave without pay. Once his arrest became public, he was terminated by the board on June 26, 2018. The board requested that Carla Russell resign from her position following her arrest and she obliged.
The indictment alleges that between Jan. 2011 to June 2018 the Russells misapplied EMS funds for their own benefit by depositing money meant for the EMS and CPR classes into their own personal bank accounts, overpaying themselves or other employees for unworked hours, being paid by other entities while simultaneously being paid by the EMS and mishandling donations to the EMS. These funds—which aggregate value was $30,000 or more but less than $150,000—all came into the Russells possession through their status as public servants. Figures obtained by “The Inquirer” in 2018 showed that Jim and Carla Russell made a combined $150,000 in 2017 and over $700,000 from 2013 to 2017.
According to Texas Penal Code, an individual found guilty of a third-degree felony is subject to imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for a term of not less than two years but not more than 10 years. In addition to the sentence, the subject may be fined in an amount not to exceed $10,000. If found guilty of the second-degree felony, an individual would be imprisoned for a term of two to 20 years and subjected to a fine of no more than $10,000.
Both Jim and Carla Russell are scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Dec. 13, 2019 at the Gonzales County Courthouse, 414 N St Joseph St, Gonzales, TX 78629.
The EMS has undergone substantial changes since the scandal first erupted. Most notably, longtime EMS first responder Allen Linebrink ascended to the position of EMS director and the EMS has begun the process of merging under the Gonzales County Emergency Services District #1 (ESD). The decision to merge was done in large part to stabilize funding for the service. The ESD’s status as a governmental entity allows it access to income streams and discounts not available to the privately-owned EMS.
Since the merger began the EMS board has restructured to three members, the ESD has earned a state-issued emergency services provider license and the ESD and EMS boards authorized the purchase of four new ambulances to replace some of the EMS’ aging fleet.