|Delta County sheriff steps down after guilty plea in federal court|
|Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor|
Oct. 19, 2006 - Delta County Sheriff Mark Bassham resigned Wednesday as that county's top law enforcement officer prior to pleading guilty in U.S. District Court in Sherman to federal charges of unauthorized access of a protected computer for private financial gain and filing a false tax return Wednesday.
The charges, according to Bassham's attorney Bob Jarvis, of Sherman, stemmed from a private business.
"Mark had operated a private investigation firm prior to being appointed sheriff. He routinely ran background checks of potential employees for his clients," Jarvis said. "When he became sheriff, he began checking some potential employees on the NCIC/TCIC [national and state criminal data base] computer at the sheriff's office, which is to be used only for law enforcement purposes."
The false tax charge was the result of Bassham's failure to pay taxes on income derived from the information gathered on the computer data bases.
"Mark realizes what he did was wrong and he agreed to plead guilty because he is a man who owns up to his mistakes," the attorney said. "[Mark] is very apologetic for his actions and will accept his consequences."
Jarvis said he anticipated Bassham would be sentenced within 90 days.
The attorney said the offenses did not interfere with the operation of the sheriff's office.
"It did not cost the taxpayers a nickel, didn't take away from official business," he said. "There was absolutely nothing that was official sheriff business."
Delta County commissioners, in an emergency meeting Thursday morning, named Deputy G.R. Wood to fill Bassham's unexpired term.
In accepting the appointment, Wood called Bassham a close personal friend and said he had "very mixed emotions."
"I look forward to serving the people of Delta County, but I also feel they have just lost the best sheriff this county has ever known," Wood said. "He has been a great sheriff for Delta County and I consider him to be one of the finest law enforcement officers I have ever known."
Bassham, 45, gained the distinction of being the youngest person to ever be elected sheriff in Texas when chosen for the position in Hopkins County in 1988. He held that office until 1990 until 1990, before being commissioned by the Texas Department of Public Safety as a Special Texas Ranger. Later that year, Bassham then joined the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers' Association as an investigator, investigating all types of agricultural crimes in a 12-county district in Northeast Texas.
Bassham was named sheriff in Delta County three years ago.
He also served as an associate pastor at Victory Temple Church in Enloe where he headed the church's cattle project with Canaan Land Restoration of Israel Inc.