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Mother of ‘affluenza’ teen indicted on criminal charges

  • STAR-TELEGRAM VIA AP / JAN. 11

    Deputies escort Tonya Couch, front right, walks to the defense table before her bond reduction hearing on Jan. 11 in court in Fort Worth, Texas.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / FEB. 19

    In this file photo, Ethan Couch is led by sheriff deputies after a juvenile court for a hearing on Feb. 19 in Fort Worth, Texas.

FORT WORTH, Texas » The mother of Ethan Couch has been indicted on two criminal charges related to his absconding from authorities last year before he was caught in Mexico.

A Tarrant County grand jury returned the indictment against Tonya L. Couch, 49, of Fort Worth, charging her Wednesday with hindering apprehension and money laundering of $30,000 to $150,000.

Tonya Couch, who remains free on $75,000 bail but was ordered earlier this year to wear a GPS monitor, has a court appearance set for June 13 in Criminal District Court No. 2.

In the money laundering charge, Couch is accused of withdrawing more than $30,000 or less than $150,000 in December just before driving off to Mexico with her son, then 18, and their dog.

She’s also accused of hindering the apprehension of her son, who at the time was suspected of violating his probation, a sentence assessed in juvenile court for drunken driving and killing four people in 2013. The Couches were detained in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Dec. 28.

Before driving to Mexico, Tonya Couch told her husband that he would never see their son again, according to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Ethan Couch was “scared” after a video surfaced on Dec. 2 showing someone who looked like him at a beer pong party, the affidavit said. That could have led to probation revocation and detention.

His mother was aware that Ethan Couch was trying to come up with a plausible explanation about the video and says he was not in it, the affidavit said.

On Dec. 3, Ethan Couch’s probation officer “asked (him) to report for a drug test.” He did not respond to that call or subsequent calls and did not appear for a scheduled meeting with the probation officer on Dec. 10.

The investigator contacted Tonya Couch’s husband, Fred Couch, on Dec. 16. He said his wife told him she was concerned that their son’s probation would be revoked, according to the affidavit.

The investigator served a search warrant for Tonya Couch’s financial records and found that she had withdrawn $30,000 from a personal account. The investigator saw no account activity after Dec. 3.

Witnesses told the investigator that Tonya Couch was present on Dec. 3 when her son discussed traveling to Mexico.

The investigator also learned that after Dec. 3, phone numbers routinely used by Tonya Couch and her son were no longer active, according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

The investigator found that Ethan Couch did not have a driver’s license or own a vehicle, but Tonya Couch owned a black 2011 Ford F-150 pickup, the affidavit said.

An unnamed witness told the investigator that the pickup, carrying Ethan and Tonya Couch and a dog, was driven to Mexico before Dec. 17.

The officer who submitted the affidavit is an Arlington police sergeant assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service North Texas Fugitive Task Force.

Ethan Couch’s name was redacted before the affidavit was released, but it is clear from the context that the officer was referring to him.

Ethan Couch was initially arrested in 2013, when — with seven passengers in his Ford F-350 pickup — he was speeding along a Tarrant County road when he crashed into a group of people trying to help a stranded motorist.

Killed were Breanna Mitchell, 24, of Lillian, whose car had broken down; Hollie Boyles, 52, and Shelby Boyles, 21, who lived nearby and had come outside to help Mitchell; and Burleson youth minister Brian Jennings, 41, a passer-by who had also stopped to help.

Couch became known as the “affluenza” teen because a witness at his trial testified that he didn’t know right from wrong as a result of his wealthy upbringing.

Ethan Couch was certified as an adult after he turned 19 and was returned to Tarrant County earlier this year.

In April, Ethan Couch, who was sentenced in juvenile court to 10 years’ probation for killing four people in the drunken driving wreck, went to adult court for the first time and was ordered to serve four consecutive 180-day jail sentences.

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©2016 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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