A death threat against a powerful Texas lawmaker that was reported by a prison inmate turned out to be a scam, a prison official said Tuesday.
Sen. John Whitmire, who heads the legislative committee in charge of Texas prisons, was in no danger from the inmate, said Bruce Toney, inspector general of the Department of Criminal Justice. The inmate was a confidential informant who tried to recruit other people to devise a plot to kill the senator so he could report them, believing it could earn him cash or a reduced prison sentence, Toney said.
"There was no credible threat," Toney said. "He was trying to work an angle on us."
The inmate's name was not released, but Toney said he was a confidential informant "who in the past had provided information, some of it credible."
"Once we started investigating, we found it basically was a scam he was working to try to get a bunch of ridiculous things for himself," Toney said. "And we found he was the one actually trying to get other people interested so he could get them in trouble."
The inmate now risks facing a charge of lying to a police officer. At a minimum, authorities would seek to rescind his prison "good time" credits that could have reduced his sentence, Toney said.
Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, is the Senate's longest serving member and is the longtime chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. He was in a committee meeting in Austin late Tuesday afternoon and not immediately available for comment, his office said.
On Monday, he disclosed he was told last week that an informant reported a "hit" against him because of complaints about the conditions on death row. Whitmire said that according to the informant, the Mexican Mafia prison gang was plotting to kill him as he ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant.
Whitmire said any threat needed to be taken seriously, particularly in the wake of last week's slaying of Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements, who was fatally shot at his home. The suspected gunman, Evan Ebel, died in a shootout in Texas.
"I think one of his motivating factors was seeing what had happened in Colorado," Toney said, speculating the inmate believed prison officials would be more inclined to believe his information because of the Colorado event.
Toney said inmates implicated by the informant passed polygraph tests. The informant prisoner did not.
"Wasn't too smart on him," Toney said. "Like we wouldn't check out everything to the n'th degree."
Whitmire was the target of a threatening call in 2008 from a death row inmate using a smuggled cellphone. The inmate was caught but the incident prompted Gov. Rick Perry to order an unprecedented lockdown of the entire 150,000-inmate prison system, the nation's largest state corrections department, for a sweep to collect contraband items.