One day after WFAA revealed a secret settlement involving Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, the FBI reached out to the auto body shop owner who fixed the county-owned SUV that the DA wrecked early last year, News 8 has learned.
Robert Reckendorf told News 8 that FBI agents called him on Friday and plan to interview him next week. Reckendorf said the agent instructed him not to make any further comment about what happened when the SUV was brought into his shop last summer with extensive front end damage.
On Thursday, News 8 revealed that Watkins used state asset forfeiture funds to secretly pay a settlement to the man whose car Watkins hit and to the man's employer. Legal experts have said that using those funds is an unorthodox use of that money and potentially illegal.
Watkins' office has said the use of the money was lawful and that there was no wrongdoing.
By using a fund that it controls, the DA's office effectively shielded the settlement from public view. Commissioners did not learn of the settlement until hours before News 8's story was broadcast.
Commissioner Mike Cantrell, the lone Republican on the five-member court, has said that Watkins did not have the authority to pay that settlement without the court's consent, and he believes that the settlement may not be legally binding.
According to police records, the crash occurred on the morning of February 5, 2013. Watkins was driving a county-owned Ford Edge on the Dallas North Tollway. He was headed to a speaking engagement at the Park Cities Club. His 14-year-old son was with him.
Watkins ran into the back of a truck while reading information on his cell phone, according to the report. News 8 has previously reported that the DA's office failed to follow a policy on the reporting and handling of accidents.
The DA's office has said that it told county administrator Darryl Martin about the accident, but Martin told News 8 that he was given the impression that it was very minor, and he did not know that the DA's office had failed to follow county accident policy.
Meanwhile, the SUV sat at a South Dallas body shop for five months until it was towed to Reckendforf's Northwest Dallas shop.
Reckendorf, owner of Parts Express, told News 8 in an interview earlier this week that he thought it was odd that the DA's office would bring the vehicle to him, given that he doesn't service county vehicles, and his shop specializes in fixing imports.
He said he believed that the SUV was a total loss, but the DA investigator who had it brought to him insisted that it be fixed. The repair cost ballooned from $6,500 to more than $11,000.
When the repairs were completed in January 2014, Reckendorf said he notified the investigator, Tommy Jones, that he could come pick up the car.
Reckendorf said Jones wanted him to release the vehicle first, and then let him pay later. Reckendorf refused.
He told News 8 that Jones threatened that his business would be harmed if he did not do as asked.
'It kind of scared me, what he said,' Reckendorf said. 'But at the same time, I just told him, 'Hey, if you want your car, you need to come and pay the bill, just like any other person.''
A few weeks later, the bill was paid, and the car was released in February 2014.
Months earlier, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office had paid $47,500 to the man Watkins hit and $4,543 to the man's employer. The DA's second-in-command, First Assistant District Attorney Heath Harris, personally signed off on the payments, records show.
The settlement agreement contains extensive language about not talking to the press, and included substantial financial penalties if the man Watkins hit did.
It wasn't until April that county officials realized the vehicle had been in a serious wreck, and that's because it wasn't working properly. They took it to a county-contracted independent appraiser who said more than $4,100 in repair work needed to be done.