SAN ANTONIO – The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office launched a public safety campaign in December 2023 to address a surge in gun thefts from cars.
KSAT was offered an interview with District Attorney Joe Gonzales to discuss the issue.
It came as a surprise, considering we had reached out to his office four times over several weeks, asking to sit down with him for an interview.
Those requests were met with rejections and cancellations.
The offer to interview Gonzales came from KGBTexas Communications, a public relations firm — not the district attorney’s communications team.
The Bexar County District Attorney paid KGBTexas $49,500 for the public safety campaign, according to the contract KSAT obtained.
The budget outlined in the contract covers public relations services, paid media advertisements, production and creative services.
In an interview discussing the contract, Gonzales told KSAT he feels the campaign made a difference.
“I think it was a good campaign; we got some positive feedback,” he said.
We asked Gonzales who the feedback came from.
“Oh, members of the community, employees in our office,” Gonzales said. “I remember there was a lady that came up to me at an HEB and said, ‘Hey, I heard your radio spot. Good job.’”
According to emails sent in mid-December and a purchase order KSAT obtained through public records, the district attorney’s office made the contract a “priority” and rushed to complete its implementation.
We asked Gonzales what prompted the contract to be rushed.
“The timing of it was that I learned of it in early December, by the time we did the research to determine the funding source, and that this was an appropriate use of that fund that — we were right before Christmas,” Gonzales said.
The money to pay for the campaign came from asset forfeiture funds, which spokesperson Pete Gallego said are “funds deemed ‘contraband’ by the courts.”
“That’s money,” Gonzales said. “A lot of times, we’re talking about (a) case that is seized in connection with drug investigations.”
Gonzales can use asset forfeiture funds for law enforcement purposes as he sees fit, according to Gallego.
But he’s not using the funds to pay for additional staff, like prosecutors, investigators and victim’s advocates — all positions the DA’s office requested funding for in the latest budget.
“You’re saying that this asset forfeiture money could not have been used for that,” asked Ibarra.
“Correct, because that’s the county budget that you’re referring to,” Gonzales said. “Remember, this is federal asset forfeiture money. Two different pots here that we’re talking about.”
According to county policy, commissioners have to approve purchases over $50,000.
The KGB Texas contract is just $500 short, which Gonzales said is a coincidence.
As part of the contract, the DA’s office got public relations services, including setting up a December interview with KSAT.
We wanted to know why Gonzales didn’t use his two communications staffers to produce the campaign.
“Because that’s not what the communications staff does,” Gonzales said. “What we have are basically employees that are public information officers that deal with you, and people in your station and other stations on a daily basis to respond to your inquiries, that prepare press releases that organize press conferences.”
According to county records, one of the DA’s communications staffers makes over $104,000.
Arif Panju, a civil liberties attorney for the Institute for Justice’s Texas Office, criticized the use of asset forfeiture funds to pay for the contract.
“That’s a lot of money to spend on communications when you have your own taxpayer-funded communications department,” he said.
Gonzales said he’s happy with the results of the campaign.
“This is an appropriate use of those funds,” he said. This was something we decided to do, and so that’s what we did.”
Gonzales said he hopes to do similar campaigns in the future.