Federal investigators asked to reopen fraud case against Texas House candidate Jared Woodfill

Jared Woodfill speaks during a reception for for his campaign at the Federal American Grill in Houston on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.
Jared Woodfill speaks during a reception for for his campaign at the Federal American Grill in Houston on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Credit: Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

A former client of Houston attorney and Texas House candidate Jared Woodfill is asking state and federal investigators to give fresh scrutiny to a 2017 investigation into allegations that he misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars from his firm’s clients.

In a sworn affidavit sent this week to the Texas Rangers, the FBI’s Houston office and U.S. attorneys in the Southern District, Amy Holsworth, the former client, alleges that Harris County prosecutors mishandled her case against Woodfill and unexpectedly closed it. She also suggests the outcome of the case may have been improperly influenced by District Attorney Kim Ogg and Rachel Hooper, a Houston attorney and counsel for the Texas GOP whose relationship with Ogg has been under scrutiny since January.

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Holsworth said in the new complaint that she recently learned that Hooper was associated with Woodfill’s legal team during the 2017 investigation into his firm. Woodfill appeared in a video with Hooper that was taken at the Harris County courthouse days after investigators raided his office. In October 2021 — a month before Holsworth says she was told the Woodfill case was closed — Hooper was reportedly hired as a contract employee for the district attorney’s office.

Woodfill is a former chair of the Harris County Republican Party who has for years led anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns in Houston and Texas. He has accused his opponent, Rep. Lacey Hull, R-Houston, of being a “Republican In Name Only” over her vote to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton — who has endorsed Woodfill’s campaign. If Woodfill wins his House race, he has said that he will also run for speaker of the Texas House.

Holsworth’s complaint comes as Woodfill continues to face unrelated scrutiny for his role in a sexual abuse scandal involving his former law partner Paul Pressler, a Southern Baptist leader and former Texas judge who has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple men.

Ogg, a Democrat, currently faces a well-funded primary challenge from a former assistant attorney, Sean Teare, as well as criticism from the local Democratic Party and others for allegedly abusing her office to pursue political vendettas.

Ogg has downplayed the accusations as “political drama.” Asked about Holsworth's complaint, the District Attorney's office declined to comment "on allegations allegedly submitted to a third party." Hooper did not respond to a request for comment, nor did her husband, who was also named in the complaint.

In an interview, Woodfill’s attorney, Terry Yates, called Holsworth’s new complaint politically motivated and unlikely to be taken seriously because of the age of her claims. He also disputed claims about Hooper’s involvement with Woodfill’s defense, saying that he was the lead attorney in the case and didn’t remember her playing a significant role.

The complaint centers around a fraud and money laundering investigation into Woodfill’s firm that began in 2017, after a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge found more than $140,000 in unaccounted funds or overpayments to Woodfill’s firm. In a massive findings of fact document that was filed in federal court at the time, the judge detailed more than a year of alleged financial “discrepancies,” overcharged attorneys fees and other instances of financial mismanagement by Woodfill’s firm.

At one point, the judge found, there was only $650 left of the $225,000 that was placed in a trust to fund legal services for Holsworth and her then-husband. Her husband declared bankruptcy, and Holsworth eventually filed a criminal complaint against Woodfill with the district attorney.

Woodfill’s firm disputed the judge’s findings.

In a separate complaint filed with the Houston Police Department around the same time, Woodfill was accused of misusing at least $300,000 from a trust account in a different divorce case.

In November 2018, Woodfill’s law offices were raided by the District Attorney’s Office, which seized more than 127 boxes of files and six computers, according to a search affidavit from the time. The warrant also cited a second complaint from a woman who hired Woodfill’s firm in 2013, as well as an employee for Woodfill’s firm who said that Woodfill often moved money between client accounts and his own bank accounts.

Woodfill was also publicly reprimanded and fined by the Texas Bar for violations related to the complaint.

In her new complaint, Holsworth wrote that she had expected charges to be filed in the case, given the detailed allegations that were already outlined by a federal judge.

At one point, Holsworth, who was previously active in Harris County conservative politics, alleges that her friends and employer were contacted by a private investigator claiming to work for Woodfill. She wrote that Hooper's husband Don, who runs a small conservative blog, spread “malicious gossip” about her and harassed her in online Republican groups.

Holsworth said that she spent years contacting officials in the District Attorney’s Office to check on her case. She wrote that she also ran into Ogg at a 2020 political event, and introduced herself as one of the victims in the Woodfill investigation.

“Ogg said that she knew exactly who I was and that she would reach out soon,” Holsworth wrote. “I never heard from DA Ogg.”

In the year after, Holsworth wrote that she and another alleged victim of Woodfill’s continued to contact investigators, who told them that they were waiting for Ogg’s approval to bring the case to a grand jury.

In November 2021, Holsworth said she was unexpectedly told that the case had been closed.

“This came as a complete surprise to me,” she wrote. “I was always given the impression that they believed they had a very strong case against Woodfill.”

Then, last month, Holsworth wrote that she began to further scrutinize her case after a story in the Houston Landing that raised ethical concerns about Ogg’s decision to tap Hooper to investigate Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office, given the public acrimony between Ogg and Hidalgo, Hooper’s ties to the state GOP and blog posts in which Hooper’s husband called Hidalgo a “Marxist.” Hooper, the Landing wrote, was hired to work on a “special project” that centered on an allegedly improper $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract. In 2022, two of Hidalgo’s aides were charged with misusing official information and tampering with a government document.

Ogg’s office defended the hiring of Hooper, telling the Landing that they “needed the manpower” because roughly half of the office’s public corruption prosecutors were on leave. Hooper’s role in the Hidalgo inquiry was to “draft and review legal documents,” Ogg’s office said, adding that they have a longstanding agreement with Hooper’s firm, BakerHostetler, “that allows our office to hire them as outside counsel, as does the Harris County Attorney’s Office.”

According to the Landing, Hooper began investigating Hidalgo’s office in October 2021 — a month before Holsworth said she was told the case against Woodfill had been closed.

Holsworth says she has since learned that, in addition to her alleged involvement with Woodfill’s legal defense, Hooper also performed legal work in the divorce and bankruptcy proceedings that prompted her complaint about Woodfill.

“All of the information that I learned in January 2024 only confirmed in my mind that the Hoopers and others were attempting to intimidate me due to my cooperation in the Woodfill criminal investigation and that the investigation was dropped by the DA’s Office for reasons contrary to the interest of justice,” Holsworth wrote.

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