Update on the scandals adding up for the City of Houston and Harris County:
Mayor Sylvester Turner's council liaison pleading guilty to accepting a bribe from a local bar owner to help pass building inspections is just the latest black eye officials have dealt with in recent years.
William-Paul Thomas, Turner's council liaison, pleaded guilty July 25 to conspiracy to accept a bribe after it was discovered he accepted money to use his position to help a bar owner pass a building inspection.
The bar owner hoped to open a bar/nightclub as a restaurant and offered Thomas more than $13,000 to help him pass the inspections, unsealed court documents show. Thomas contacted a fire official and "pressured other officials" to approve the permit. He was then paid an undisclosed amount of money.
Thomas retired Tuesday, July 26, for health reasons, he told Turner in an email.
The mayor himself was accused of corruption in 2021 by then Housing and Community Development Director Tom McCasland.
Turner was accused of attempting direct affordable housing money to a company run by his longtime law partner for a $15 million development for senior living, instead of $16.2 million for four projects to provide 362 family units. The move allegedly was made against his staff's recommendations.
Everything that's happened since Mayor Turner was accused of corruption over housing deal
Turner said he didn't know his former law partner, Barry Barnes, was involved in the deal and didn't see a reason for him not to get the funding.
“There’s no reason why he should excuse himself,” Turner said. “There’s no conflict.”
The mayor fired McCasland soon after and appointed Keith Bynam as interim director, before he eventually was put in the position permanently.
Two current aides and one former staffer to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo are accused of using their positions to steer a vaccine outreach contract to a politically connected vendor.
The three were indicted on charges of misuse of official information and tampering. Law enforcement raided Hidalgo's offices in March. Policy director Willis Nader, chief of staff Alex Triantaphyllis and senior adviser Aaron Dunn face one felony count on each charge. Dunn no longer works for Hidalgo.
According to affidavits, the three exchanged text messages with Elevate founder Felicity Pereyra months before the office requested proposals for the program.
Hidalgo canceled the program after Republican county commissioners accused her of steering the $11 million contract toward Elevate Strategies, which they said had no public health expertise.
“The way it’s being politicized is getting in the way of getting people vaccinated,” Hidalgo said. “It’s really sad, but it’s the truth of the matter. We need to focus on so many other efforts.”
Hidalgo has maintained the innocence of her staffers and herself.
Former HISD chief operating officer Brian Busby and contracted vendor Anthony Hutchison face public corruption charges related to a bribery scheme that cost the school system millions of dollars.
Five other former employees were also charged. Busby and Hutchison were later charged with income tax fraud in April.
Busby is accused of of helping award construction and grounds maintenance contracts to Hutchison for cash bribes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in home remodeling. The newer indictments allege they both underreported their incomes on federal tax returns to hide bribes or gambling debts.
If convicted, the men could face up to 5 years for conspiracy, up to 10 years for bribing a public official, up to 20 years for wiretapping, up to 20 years for witness tampering and up to 3 years for each tax count. Five accused former employees have accepted plea deals.
Public hangings would bring an end to much of this.
I would like to see an investigation of the no-bid, pop up, never used, facility i
At NRG in the spring of 2020.
Hidalgo and Turner are just the beginning. What about the permanent construction of the highways and public works in Houston. Never stops, they never finish one when they are starting a new one. There have to be some type of deal for somebody there too, is worth investigating I guess. Hidalgo is up for reelection, she need to go.