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Archive for July 13th, 2017

Not Enlightened

Commentary said this yesterday about the doings over at H-Town City Hall on the payments made by a City of H-Town honcho to a HCC trustee who pled guilty to bribery:

Now what am I missing here? If you are a vendor who has government contracts or want government contracts and if an elected official tries to shake you down, you can either make illegal payments, you can tell the elected official to go f__k-off, or you can go to the authorities and rat out the elected official and risk never getting a government contract again because elected officials and governments don’t like to do business with a rat. In this case, he made illegal payments to the elected official so what is there to review and what hard questions should be asked? Who thinks paying off an elected official is proper, acceptable and A-Okay? Like I said, what am I missing here? Enlighten me, please.

Nobody took the time to enlighten me and this is from the Chron’s Rebecca Elliott and Mike Morris:

Houston’s Public Works director will vacate his post temporarily following revelations that he made unlawful payments to a Houston Community College trustee now awaiting sentencing on a federal bribery charge.

Karun Sreerama paid $77,143 to longtime HCC trustee Chris Oliver in three installments between late 2010 and mid-2013, when Sreerama owned a private engineering firm. Federal authorities say Oliver was leveraging his power to influence the awarding of HCC business contracts.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday he was unaware of the criminal case or Sreerama’s involvement prior to this week. Turner added that he spoke with the public works director during a “brief telephone call” before placing him on paid administrative leave.

And here is how it ends:

On the bribery charge, Oliver pleaded guilty to taking $12,000 in payments, promising to use his position to help secure contracts with the community college system. The acting U.S. attorney has agreed to dismiss the extortion charge against Oliver in exchange for his guilty plea on the bribery indictment, court records show.

Sreerama’s attorney, Chip Lewis, said Tuesday Oliver threatened to block Sreerama’s firm from getting contracts with the college system. He clarified that statement the next day, saying Sreerama’s firm never needed Oliver’s vote to secure contracts, and that Oliver’s alleged requests were framed in terms of friendship: “I’ll never forget what a friend you’ve been to me; you’re a friend and I’ll support you as a friend.”

Oliver solicited funds from Sreerama three times, Lewis said, and received three checks from Sreerama in return.

Lewis described how the payments were made: The first two were made because Oliver claimed he was going through a costly divorce, and then claimed he needed funds to complete the process of adopting a child. Both payments were presented as loans and were not repaid. The third payment took the form of an exorbitant fee Oliver charged after his company cleaned the parking lot at Sreerama’s business.

Authorities confronted Sreerama in March 2014, seven months after he made the last of the three payments to Oliver, Lewis said.

“He’s guilty of a bad decision,” he said. “There’s no criminal activity in him loaning money to a friend and actually paying far more than he should have for a sweeping of his parking lot. The only thing Karun is guilty of is being kind-hearted. Karun isn’t a guy going around trying to grease people; never was.”

Wendell Odom Jr., a local criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said the boundaries in this case aren’t that clear. Someone who took similar actions could have been charged as a co-conspirator, Odom added.

“He acquiesced to the shakedown, so he participated in it,” Odom said, adding that people should report extortion attempts to authorities.

Craig McDonald, executive director of Austin nonprofit Texans for Public Justice, said the payments simply should never have occurred.

“It’s pretty hard to swallow that that kind of money passed just because of friendship and good-naturedness,” McDonald said. “That situation is not credible with the general public.”

Over the years, Sreerama has been a prolific political donor, predominantly to Democrats, and was a key supporter of Turner’s 2015 mayoral bid. His family contributed a combined $20,000 to Turner’s runoff campaign. He also has contributed to the campaigns of seven of the 16 sitting council members: Green, Ellen Cohen, Amanda Edwards, Brenda Stardig, David Robinson, Jack Christie and Jerry Davis.

Until the Sreerama’s job status is resolved, Turner said deputy Public Works director Carol Haddock will lead the department during Sreerama’s leave, returning to the role she held in the weeks before Sreerama assumed the post earlier this year.

Cohen said she could see Sreerama resuming his leadership role with the city.

“As far as I’m concerned with the information I have to date, I believe that he’s in a position, once everything is discussed, to continue to do a credible job,” Cohen said.

Others were more skeptical. Councilman Greg Travis said he does not believe Sreerama should stay on.

“The moment somebody sits there and comes to you with something illegal, you say no and go right to the authorities,” Travis said. “That’s probably the most important spot next to mayor in the entire city, and if you’re compromised on ethics, how can you stay there? I don’t care how competent you are.”

Councilman Mike Knox, too, was doubtful.

“My question is: If you’re willing to do that as a contractor, might then you also be willing to accept a payment?”

Here is the entire article: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Public-Works-director-who-made-unlawful-payments-11284898.php?cmpid=btfpm.

This is from Bill King:

Bill King‏@BillKingForHou 21m21 minutes ago

Replying to @rfelliott

A person who pays a bribe is not a victim.

And:

Bill King‏@BillKingForHou 25m25 minutes ago

In bribery there are 2 criminals, the one paying a bribe and the person receiving it. The taxpayers are the victims. 

Like I said, what am I missing here?  Aside from his lawyer, nobody is really stepping up to defend him.

Commentary has to think that the Houston Firefighters are tired of hearing “we appreciate all you do to keep our city safe, but…..” That’s what they got today from the Chron E-Board. Here is how it starts:

We’re grateful for everything our firefighters do every day. When we need them, we count on them to rush to our aid because the lives they save are literally priceless. But we can’t afford to write them a blank check.

Here is the entire read: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/Firefighters-petition-11284677.php.

Commentary has said it before, it’s politics baby!

No MLB question today, it’s the All Star break.

 

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