Another One Bites the Dust: HCC Trustee Chris Oliver Going to Prison for 70 Months

Well…another one bites the dust in Houston.

That is another African American community leader in the Greater Houston area.

Disgraced Houston Community College (HCC) Trustee Chris Oliver, 53, who the Forward Times reported on back in July of last year, has finally found out his sentencing fate after being indicted and arrested in March 2016, and then pleading guilty in May 2016 to federal bribery charges.

Oliver is going to jail…for a pretty long time.

This past Monday, January 8th, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore accepted the guilty plea and slapped Oliver with a nearly 6-year sentence. Oliver was sentenced to serve a 70-month sentence, and was further ordered to pay a $12,000 in forfeiture to the FBI and will be required to serve a one-year-term of supervised release following completion of the prison term.

At the hearing, additional testimony was presented including the fact that Oliver had maintained a position of trust as an elected official, but nonetheless, chose to engage in this criminal activity.

It was also noted that the bribes took place over an extended period of time, beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2016.

In dropping the hammer on Oliver, Judge Gilmore highlighted Oliver’s roughly 21-year tenure on the HCC board of trustees, and the number and amount of bribes Oliver had received over the course of his time in that elected office, as reason for the sentence.

Judge Gilmore also stated that the sentence she handed down was totally necessary, as she believed it reflected the seriousness of the offense, and that it was important to promote respect for the law and provide adequate deterrence from future acts by others.

“Public officials who use their position for private gain undermine the integrity of government and erode the public’s trust in the very framework of our democracy. Today’s sentence sends a strong message of the consequences of such actions,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner. “The FBI stands firm with local, state and federal partners in an unwavering commitment to combat public corruption and hold accountable those who choose to abuse the privilege of serving the American people. We rely heavily on the public’s help in investigating these crimes and urge anyone with information related to public corruption to report it to the FBI.”

Oliver, who was facing a maximum of 10 years in prison for the crime, was originally charged with two counts of bribery for allegedly accepting close to $90,000 in bribes as a means to influence his decision-making on contracts and services involving HCC, but only pleaded guilty to one of the bribery charges to which the federal government alleged he accepted bribes totaling $12,000 in the form of Visa gift cards, according to court records.

At the time of his guilty plea, Oliver admitted to accepting bribes in exchange for voting in favor of contracts as part of his official capacity as a member of the HCC board of trustees. It was revealed during his plea hearing that Oliver met with former City of Houston Public Works Director Karun Sreerama on several occasions at various restaurants and coffee shops in the Houston area, where he accepted cash payments in exchange for agreeing to use his elected position to help Sreerama secure contracts with the college.

Sreerama, who owned a successful engineering firm, ESPA Inc., had received millions of dollars in contracts from HCC. At a press conference last July, Sreerama confessed that he had been working with the FBI in its federal bribery case against Oliver, and he was never charged with any wrongdoing or impropriety.

Meanwhile, many in the community had reason to believe that Oliver, who not only was allowed to remain out on bond and continue serving in his official capacity as an HCC trustee in spite of the indictment and guilty plea, may have been serving as an informant for the FBI during that time. Nothing has been released publicly at this point, as to whether Oliver was wearing a wire or meeting with other individuals, but the Forward Times will continue to monitor the situation, and definitely report on any new developments that may arise.