LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- A local judge and rancher in Loving County, Texas, and three other men were arrested on Friday and booked on multiple felony charges of organized crime and livestock theft, in connection with an alleged estray cattle-theft operation as part of a year's-long investigation in southwest Texas.
Skeet Lee Jones, 71, is a local ranch owner who also has served as a county judge since 2007.
Also arrested with Jones were former Loving County sheriff's deputy Leroy Medlin Jr., 35, Cody Williams, 31, and Jonathon Alvarado, 23, according to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. Jones, Williams and Alvarado, each are charged with livestock theft and organized crime, while Medlin is charged with one count of organized crime.
Jeremy Fuchs, director of public affairs at the association, told DTN the charges currently levied are in connection with the alleged theft of a total of seven head of cattle including three by Jones and Williams, and one by Alvarado.
So, Jones and Williams each face three felonies for the theft. According to the charges it is alleged the men were involved in stealing and selling estray cattle.
"While I don't have specifics, I know there are a lot of cattle suspected to be involved," Fuchs said.
"It's also important to note that the investigation is ongoing and additional charges may be possible. It will ultimately be a district judge who hears the case, but the next step is for the cases to go before a grand jury. Unfortunately, we don't have any timeline on that process yet."
In Texas, theft of one head is an automatic third-degree felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison, up to $10,000 in fines and possible restitution if convicted.
Organized crime charges are based on the seriousness of the underlying charge -- in this case a third-degree felony -- which makes them second-degree felonies punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Loving County is the smallest county in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with just 57 residents.
DTN's attempts to reach Jones for comment were unsuccessful.
All men arrested in the case posted bond and were released from jail.
According to Chapter 142 of Texas ag law, if someone finds estray livestock they are required to report it to the sheriff of a given county. A sheriff is then required to notify the owner of an estray animal that it had been found on private property.
Jones is the owner and operator of P&M Jones Ranch, which was founded in 1953 by his father, Elgin "Punk" Jones, and mother, Mary Belle Jones.
Jones is not a registered lawyer, according to the Texas Bar Association. In Texas, county judges oftentimes are not lawyers but serve as the head official of a county. Jones was sworn in as judge in 2007.
The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2016 issued a public warning to Jones, regarding illegal rulings issued by him in connection to multiple speeding tickets.
According to the commission, Jones offered a one-time deal to first-time speeding offenders to allow them to change their citations to illegal parking.
The commission said in its findings that from 2009 to 2014 "at least 90 citations had been changed, but that some of the citations that were changed were for charges other than speeding."
The commission concluded that Jones "failed to comply with the law and/or failed to maintain professional competence in the law by entering judgments finding defendants guilty of 'illegal parking' violations that were not supported by a proper complaint or probable cause, and imposing fines for these 'illegal parking' offenses in excess of amounts allowed by law."
Susan Hays, the Democratic nominee for Texas ag commissioner, once represented a Loving County Commission candidate in an election recount before Jones' court.
Hays told DTN many Jones family members hold positions in county government and make six-figure salaries, including Skeet Jones.
"With a six-figure income in a community where it costs nothing to live," she said, "How greedy can you get? You really would risk your position, your job, your freedom for a few head of cattle?"
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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