An explosive story alleging a male lobbyist with a prominent firm in Austin, Texas had drugged two female legislative staffers with a date-rape drug was plastered across the mainstream media. Now, an investigation into the claims has found that the woman who made the initial allegations had lied, but of course she won’t be published, even though she falsely accused a man, causing him trauma and damaging his career.
The story began on April 24, 2021, when Texas State Capitol staffers and others connected to the state house were sent an ominous text.
“Two male lobbyists (unnamed so far) roofied/drugged two young Capitol staffers at the Austin Club,” it said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “Girls OD’d and were hospitalized. Leadership has been briefed. Girls pressing all charges. All levels of law enforcement involved. Lots of cameras at the Austin Club. Should be in the press soon.”
Richard Dennis, a lobbyist who five years earlier served as chief of staff to a state representative, received the message like so many others. Dennis, 42, told the Chronicle that he recalled not drinking at the Austin Club in three weeks. “About 6 p.m. that evening, however, his employer informed him that he was the prime suspect in an alleged crime that had occurred three and a half weeks earlier,” the Chronicle reported.
Dennis told the outlet that he and a few colleagues went to the Austin Club on April 1, sitting at what is known as the “HillCo Table,” named for the lobbyist firm where he worked.
“At this point, you’re two-thirds of the way through the session, you can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Dennis told the Chronicle. “Everyone was in a great mood, and everyone was enjoying each other’s company. The rounds were being refreshed frequently at the table.”
Dennis said that after about three hours, he, another male legislative aide, and the female staffer who would eventually accuse him, went to a nearby restaurant for food and were later joined by another male legislative staffer. The group had more drinks, and Dennis called an Uber around 11 p.m. to go home.
“I absolutely, definitively knew I did not date rape drug anyone,” Dennis told the Chronicle. “My biggest fear was that these two poor girls had been drugged, but drugged by someone else.”
The Chronicle reported that it was the female staffer’s co-worker, a different woman at the Capitol, who reported a drugging incident. Neither woman was named by the Chronicle, even though Dennis had his name and photo splashed across media outlets. This co-worker told the Texas Department of Public Safety that she blacked out after only having a few drinks at the Austin Club and woke up thinking she felt worse than she should have. She went to a nearby emergency room and was treated for dehydration and nausea, according to the DPS investigation report reviewed by the Chronicle.
The staffer who made the false accusation against Dennis reportedly told her co-worker that she had also blacked out, but later that night.
“Another Capitol worker had taken the staffer to his home for the night. In texts to her boyfriend and her co-worker’s mother, the staffer said she had gone to a medical clinic where she tested positive for GHB, a common date rape drug,” the DPS report said.
The woman claimed to her friend that the clinic had “found GHB in my blood,” however, DPS investigators discovered the clinic never tested the woman for GHB.
DPS Special Agent Patrick Alonzo investigated the woman’s claim, and found more inconsistencies, the Chronicle reported.
“The man who had taken the staffer home reported that she appeared inebriated but otherwise fine. The next morning, she felt poorly, he said, but the two had dismissed it as a combination of her recent COVID vaccination shot and the drinking,” the outlet reported. “The female staffer agreed to meet with Alonzo once, after which she stopped returning his calls. In her taped interview, she told the investigator that after her second drink she couldn’t remember anything and had woken up the next morning at her friend’s East Austin apartment not knowing how she got there. Contradicting her earlier story, she said she was not tested for date rape drugs.”
A DPS investigator noted in their report that “Throughout the interview (she) attempted to sell SA Alonzo the reputation of Richard Dennis rather than articulate facts as to why Dennis or any other lobbyist or person at the table would have placed an adulterant into her or (her friend’s) drink.”
The co-worker’s mother, whom the accuser had been texting with her allegations, was the first to suggest that the woman may be trying to cover up an affair – with the man who took her home from the restaurant the night of the alleged incident.
“She needed a cover story for her infidelity,” the co-worker said, according to the DPS report, adding that the accuser had been secretly having an affair with the male staffer that she was keeping from her live-in boyfriend.
Alonzo concluded that the woman had been “deceitful” when working with DPS. Agency medical staff determined that the COVID vaccines combined with the amount of alcohol the women consumed could explain their symptoms.
The woman told the Chronicle that she “didn’t file a police report or accuse anyone of anything” and didn’t “orchestrate anything.”
The co-worker who initially suspected she had been drugged reportedly burst into tears when she learned her friend had made false claims.
“I don’t think I would’ve filed anything if I would’ve known from the beginning it wasn’t what I thought it was,” she told investigators.
Dennis’ supervisor released a statement after learning the allegations against the lobbyist were false.
“The alleged drugging incident at the Capitol where one of our employees was named a ‘person of interest’ was quickly proven to be completely false and a total fabrication, perpetrated by unscrupulous people for nefarious reason to frame an innocent party,” he said, according to the Chronicle.
Dennis told the Chronicle that he contemplated suicide after the accusation.
“I contemplated, with my life insurance, maybe I am at this point better off not walking this earth, to my family, than I am walking in it,” he said. “She needed an alibi. For some reason, this is the story that she settled on.”
District Attorney Jose Garza campaigned on being tough on sexual assault cases, so after he was presented with Alonzo’s findings – just days after the story broke – he released a statement that didn’t absolve Dennis. Instead, the Chronicle reported, Garza insisted that “recent events have amplified the conversation in our community that women should have the right to feel safe at all times. This conversation is long overdue, and we are encouraged by the Texas Legislature’s attention to these important issues.”
Dennis’s attorneys, David and Perry Minton, told the outlet that Garza “should have immediately and definitively exonerated our client … rather than highlighting the issues that got him elected.”
The Chronicle, too, engaged in an effort to pretend Dennis’ story is rare, even though so many allegations made as part of the #MeToo movement turned out similarly. Prior to explaining just how the woman made the accusations and how they were debunked, the Chronicle spent several paragraphs insisting women underreport sexual assault and that their claims “too often had been ignored, disbelieved or covered up.” The outlet also claimed that “Reported assaults that law enforcement initially dismissed as false have later been proved true,” implying that even when someone thinks a story is false, it’s actually true. Even though the outlet said “assaults” – plural – they link to exactly one example. Granted, it’s an insane story, but it is the only example, yet it has received a Pulitzer and a TV series.
The woman who made the false accusation against Dennis and dragged his name through the mud will, predictably, face no charges, as is often the case with false accusers.
Even though this is yet another #MeToo allegation that ended up being false, it is unlikely the media will stop reporting every allegation as if true.
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