Who is J.W. Dant?
And why is he buying ads in the Ellis County sheriff’s race?
J.W. Dant has lent his name to a $700-plus political ad for GOP candidate James Ledbetter’s benefit and now similar flyers bearing his name have been put out in a local barbershop at an unknown cost.
Texas election law has several provisions relating to campaign advertising – not the least of which requires under penalty that the “true source” of the financing be identified.
State law also requires that an individual who makes a direct campaign expenditure in excess of $100 comply with political action committee regulations.
Yet extensive searches of public records reveals no Texas driver license issued to a J.W. Dant.
There’s no registered voter in the state of Texas by the name of J.W. Dant.
A search of appraisal district records in Ellis County turns up no property owner by the name of J.W. Dant.
A certified letter sent March 13 by the Daily Light to a Red Oak P.O. box given out as J.W. Dant’s has gone unclaimed.
And, based on a lack of results from an Open Records request to the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office, he’s never had any contact there.
Could it be that J.W. Dant is nothing more than an inexpensive Kentucky bourbon produced by Heaven Hill Distillery that happens to share the same name?
Perhaps, but the problem with that is cheap whiskey can’t buy a $700-plus political ad and expect to get off scotch-free under the Texas Election Code.
Ledbetter believes J.W. Dant exists – he acknowledged so in a meeting with the Daily Light in which he informed members of the editorial board of the content of the political ad and its cost.
The meeting, requested by Ledbetter, was to point out his experience over opponent Johnny Brown. In making his point, Ledbetter referenced the ad, along with its cost, which first raised the question of J.W. Dant and an investigation into why no political action committee has been registered.
Ledbetter also acknowledged his appreciation of the J.W. Dant-led effort, stating again it did not come from his campaign.
Following that meeting, the Daily Light began investigating why no PAC had been filed with the Ellis County Elections Office. That’s when questions also began to surface over J.W. Dant’s identity.
In a later e-mail sent from his county e-mail address at the sheriff’s office and during a separate telephone conversation with the Daily Light, Ledbetter said he didn’t know how to reach J.W. Dant. Ledbetter also asserted he was told J.W. Dant wouldn’t talk to anyone for fear of “retaliation.”
Asked about the questions surrounding J.W. Dant’s identity, Ledbetter responded, “I don’t give a hang who he is. … It doesn’t matter. I don’t know J.W. Dant.”
He said he was told J.W. Dant had purchased the ad “because he thought I was being railroaded.”
Ledbetter said he’s done nothing wrong and told the Daily Light, “If there’s something wrong, let them get on it,” and said he’s under no obligation to verify anything about a campaign contribution.
“I have no reason to find out who J.W. Dant is,” Ledbetter said.
The ad was physically purchased by Dallas police officer/homicide detective Roberto Arredondo, who presented $708.75 in cash to the Daily Light advertising staff. Arredondo, who requested his name not appear on the ad, made a telephone call in the presence of an advertising representative and handed the phone to her. The person on the other end of the call identified himself as J.W. Dant and authorized the ad and its payment as well as authorized his name to be placed on the ad.
A Ledbetter political supporter who has written a letter to the editor via an e-mail, Arredondo has told the Daily Light on more than one occasion that J.W. Dant exists.
In a March 13 e-mail to the Daily Light, Arredondo wrote, “I will let im (sic) know that you with (sic) to meet with him.”
In a March 14 e-mail to the Daily Light, Arredondo wrote, “I spoke to J.W. today… He asked me to inform you that he does not wish to speak nor meet with you. J.W. also asked that I tell you that, he did pay for the ad but, would now like to be left alone regarding this matter.”
The Daily Light has submitted an Open Records request to the Dallas Police Department for copies of Arredondo’s e-mails in relation to Ellis County political campaigns, specifically including those to or from or in reference to J.W. Dant.
The Daily Light contacted a supervisor at Dallas PD, who told the Daily Light he had no reason to believe J.W. Dant doesn’t exist if Arredondo said he does. Less than 20 minutes after the conversation with the supervisor, the Daily Light was contacted by Ellis County sheriff’s deputy Richard Benavides, who identified himself as working with the sheriff’s office and as related to Arredondo.
Benavides told a Daily Light reporter he was filing a complaint of harassment on behalf of his nephew and made additional claims of filing litigation. He said he was not threatening the reporter, but said any looking into the issue of J.W. Dant needed to stop immediately.
Benavides also dropped the name of an attorney – and a subsequent cross-reference on that name revealed an individual with the same name on Ledbetter’s contribution report. The name also is the same as that of an attorney listed on the State Bar of Texas Web site.
Benavides repeatedly asked the reporter, “Why do you need to talk to J.W. Dant?”
On Arredondo’s original e-mail to the Daily Light, which included his letter to the editor and came from his Dallas PD e-mail Feb. 5, a copy also was sent to an e-mail address for “rlbenavides.”
An Open Records request to Ellis County government for personal e-mails of employees would be futile, according to conversations with officials, who have told the Daily Light there is no independent server where all outgoing and incoming e-mails are stored. Each county employee with an e-mail address is allowed to handle his or her own e-mails. Although required by law to file certain e-mails either in an e-mail folder system or by printing out and storing them as paper copies, once downloaded or sent, e-mails of a personal nature by county employees can be dumped at the user’s whim.
There is no apparent mechanism in place – other than the “honor system” – to monitor the use of county equipment for personal matters – including campaign activity – at this time.
Dallas Police Department policy
An Open Records request for a copy of any Dallas PD policy pertaining to political involvement by any of its members is pending pickup at Dallas PD headquarters in Dallas. A telephone message from the agency’s open record division indicated the cost was 20 cents and the copies could be picked up in person.
J.W. Dant’s support of sheriff’s candidate James Ledbetter is subject to scrutiny under state law, including these sections:
Section 253.062 – direct expenditure exceeding $100
Section 255.004 – true source of communication
Section 255.005 – misrepresentation of identity
According to TCLEOSE records, Arredondo worked for Dallas PD from June 7, 1996, to Dec. 17, 2003, before working for Maypearl PD for three months (Jan. 12, 2004-April 16, 2004). After leaving Maypearl, Arredondo rejoined Dallas PD on Jan. 5, 2005, where he has served since.
According to TCLEOSE records, Ledbetter served as Maypearl’s police chief from Jan. 1, 1989-Oct. 23, 1997.
Red Oak P.O. box
As of Friday, March 28, no one had claimed a certified, signature-requested letter sent to the P.O. box that was provided to the Daily Light during the transaction on the political ad as belonging to J.W. Dant.
Post office employees said they could confirm the box is registered to an individual, but, according to the agency’s policy, they are unable to release the name of the boxholder. A search of an online database available to the public, however, revealed 11 names with an association to the box – none of them J.W. Dant.
A cross reference of the online database records to voter registration records indicates two registered voters – neither of them J.W. Dant – who either have or have had an association to the P.O. box.
Yet another cross-reference of the two names, to Ledbetter’s campaign reports, indicates one of the individuals contributed $100 to his campaign. In a telephone conversation with the Daily Light, the individual acknowledged he had the P.O. box several years ago, but said he didn’t know anything about the political ad in question nor why the box would be connected to it. Of J.W. Dant, the man said, “I thought he was a Confederate soldier.”
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The issue of “Who is J.W. Dant?” began as a simple request to inquire why a political action committee had not been filed as required under the Texas Election Code.
The entire matter would have likely gone unnoticed until GOP sheriff’s candidate James Ledbetter brought the ad — and its exact cost — to our editorial board’s attention, claiming it was purchased by an individual outside his campaign to illustrate the differences in experience between the three candidates running for sheriff.
Since Ledbetter’s campaign did not purchase the ad and the cost of the ad exceeded $100, Texas election laws require the filing of a political action committee.
Discovering that no PAC had been filed, our intentions were to reach Mr. Dant, expecting to be told either the matter was an oversight or he was unaware of the election regulations. In either case, the matter would be corrected.
That should have been the end of the story. Actually, at that point, it would have been a non-story.
Instead, what started as a simple request for clarification has taken a number of twists and turns, none of which are leading to a simple explanation.
Dallas police officer/homicide detective Robert Arredondo, who physically purchased the ad on behalf of Mr. Dant, tells us Mr. Dant exists. Yet he has stonewalled any effort to establish contact between the Daily Light and Mr. Dant.
While in the process of trying to establish communication with Mr. Dant, Ellis County sheriff’s deputy Richard Benavides, who also happens to be Arredondo’s uncle, calls the Daily Light threatening legal action unless all inquiries into the identity of Mr. Dant cease immediately.
Meanwhile, Ledbetter, who brought the ad and its exact cost to the editorial board’s attention in the first place, claims he doesn’t know who Mr. Dant is, doesn’t care and, to put it nicely, has become extremely agitated over our inquiries into the matter.
Using investigative research tools at our disposal, we have been unable to find any record of a living person named J.W. Dant.
A Google search engine request did flag multiple listings for J.W. Dant brand Kentucky bourbon whiskey and references to the 19th century distiller who founded the brand now produced by Heaven Hill Distillery. We also found a reference to a 3-year-old pet lizard in Mississippi named J.W. Dant who likes to eat crickets.
If J.W. Dant does not exist, at least one election law has been violated in a campaign effort to elect our county’s top law enforcement officer.
We believe the public has the right to know – per the law – who is financing an election for Ellis County sheriff, who is ultimately responsible for enforcing the laws on the public.
Who is J.W. Dant? If you know, please give us a call. We would really like to get this matter cleared up before we elect our new sheriff on April 8.
—Neal White, Editor