When you think about a city in the United States that is most known for having corruption and scandal tied to its political scene, the city of Chicago typically comes to mind.
Now, after a few jaw-dropping scandals that have come to light over the past several months, it looks as if the city of Houston is trying very hard to give the city of Chicago a run for its money.
Is there something in the “political” water that has contributed to the recent outbreak of accusations and evidence of corruption that has come to light over recent months in Houston?
First off, let’s look at the case of Houston Community College (HCC) trustee Chris Oliver, who the community just learned pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges and is facing a maximum of 10 years in prison for the crime.
This is an extremely scandalous and curious case for a variety of reasons.
Although 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, Oliver pleaded guilty to one of the bribery charges to which the federal government alleged that he accepted bribes totaling $12,000 in the form of Visa gift cards, according to court records.
The timing of the release of the recently unsealed federal documents by the government this past Friday is a questionable one, in that Oliver was indicted and arrested in March, and then pleaded guilty in May.
Oliver was not only allowed to remain out on bond, but he was also allowed to continue serving in his official capacity as an HCC trustee in spite of the indictment and guilty plea.
How could a public servant who was indicted by the federal government, who was subsequently arrested and who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, be allowed by that same federal government to continue serving the community in the capacity of a trustee; attend HCC board meetings and functions; consistently make decisions and vote on matters related to HCC; while keeping everything quiet about it all to everyone, especially their colleagues on the HCC board?
Many in the community believe that Oliver was serving as an informant for the federal government during that time, which leads many to ask if there are more individuals who are going to be implicated in this bribery and corruption scandal in the upcoming months.
Since the release of Oliver’s indictment last Friday, several other names have been rumored to be tied to him and his corruption shenanigans. Time will tell if any of those names will be verified as being tied to Oliver, or if the federal government actually used Oliver as an informant in order to obtain any information that would take down any of those individuals.
Next on the alleged corruption list is Harris County Justice of the Peace Hilary Green, who has found herself suspended with no pay by the Texas Supreme Court as of last Friday also.
Green, who was recently re-elected to the bench this past November, is fighting to hold on for her judicial life after allegations came out that she ordered prostitutes and paid them for sex, sent one of the bailiffs in her courtroom sexually explicit text messages while presiding over cases in the courtroom, and had illegally obtained prescription drugs, such as Ecstasy and marijuana, while also presiding over cases in the courtroom.
What makes this so troubling is that Green has allegedly admitted to doing many of the things that she has been accused of doing. In her role as an elected justice of the peace, Green is responsible for overseeing and making decisions on thousands of low-level criminal and civil cases annually, many of which involve low-level drug possession, traffic tickets and evictions.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct presented the Texas Supreme Court demanding an immediate suspension of Green based on evidence they claimed to have collected through their own investigations of Green from 2012 to 2015. The Texas Supreme Court subsequently agreed and issued the order in a one-page ruling indicating that the evidence they were presented, and the personal admissions by Green, warranted her immediate removal from the bench.
In response to the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling, Green argued that she was being targeted and treated unfairly. She also vehemently defended her sobriety and indicated that she stopped abusing prescription cough syrup roughly three years prior to these allegations and has evidence of passing several drug-screening tests over the recent months. Green also argued that the allegations being levied against her should be discredited because they are coming from Claude Barnes, a man she claims is a jilted former lover who got upset after she ended the affair with him, and from her disgruntled ex-husband, former City Controller Ronald Green.
In detailed allegations provided by Barnes to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Barnes went to great lengths to share information about Green’s alleged illegal prescription drug abuse and the prostitutes he claims they often paid to have group sex with.
Sadly, this is not the first time we have seen corruption and scandals rock the Greater Houston area. Just as recent as November 2016, the Forward Times reported on the local case involving a pay-to-play, bribery and kickback scheme allegation that went on for nearly six years surrounding former Houston Independent School District (HISD) trustee Larry Marshall.
In depositions that were taken after a lawsuit was filed, Marshall admitted that one of his co-defendants, Joyce Moss-Clay, did business with companies seeking HISD contracts, and Moss-Clay admitted that she would give Marshall’s consulting firm a significant portion of the money she received from those companies seeking HISD contracts. Documents uncovered in the case and testimony received during the deposition showed the elaborate way that Moss-Clay would provide significant kickbacks to Marshall by regularly giving him anywhere from 65 to 75 percent from the companies and others that did business with HISD and that she represented. According to the lawsuit, Marshall not only received the kickbacks, he also received a free Super Bowl trip, expensive gifts, fancy meals and a $25,000 campaign contribution from one of his co-defendants, Pete Medford with Fort Bend Mechanical.
After days of testimony, the federal jury found that Marshall, along with his co-defendants, Moss-Clay, Fort Bend Mechanical and RHJ-JOC (Eva Jackson), violated the federal racketeering law, and concerning the damages directly related to the interference, they assigned 30 percent ($1.4 million) of the financial responsibility to Marshall and the rest to his co-defendants.
Of course, the community expects more from the people they elect to serve in public office, and these recent incidents are extremely troubling allegations and revelations.
Sadly, now the community waits to see who else’s name(s) may be mentioned over the next several months. Hopefully, none of our current elected officials, community leaders or business professionals will be found to have been tied to or implicated in reference to these current and/or any future corruption charges and scandals. Time will tell, however.
The Forward Times will stay close to this issue, and will definitely report on whoever may be tied to any more corruption stories or scandals in the Greater Houston area as they materialize.