Houston’s public works director is now on paid administrative leave after a federal indictment named him as the victim of a bribery scheme involving a Houston Community College trustee.
Mayor Sylvester Turner made that decision because he says he wants time to dig deeper into this case.
It all came to light when a federal indictment was unsealed a few days ago, and the mayor says he knew nothing about this case before then.
All of this allegedly happened years before Turner appointed Karun Sreerama as Public Works Director this March.
That indictment was filed in March against Christopher Olive , a Houston Community College board member. It charges Oliver with bribery and extortion under color of official right, which the feds say is basically using public office to coerce people into making an illegal payment.
The indictment claims that from December 2010 to August 2013, Sreerama willingly gave Oliver more than $77,000, though it names the future public works director as a “victim.”
At that time, Sreerama ran a private engineering firm in Houston.
Right now, Mayor Turner is on a city business trip in Europe, but sent a statement saying, in part, “I am taking this action so that I may thoroughly review the information to make sure there are no further related implications for the city and him. It is against everyone’s best interest for a public servant to have to operate under a cloud, as Mr. Sreerama and I have discussed in a brief telephone call. I continue to have confidence in Karun and look forward to his return.”
For now, the mayor says the department’s deputy director will serve as the interim head.
KHOU 11 News has reached out to the Public Works spokesperson and Sreerama’s lawyer, but we have not heard back.
Oliver’s attorney wouldn’t comment on the charges, saying he’s “holding everything up for court.”
Court records show Oliver took a plea deal and pleaded guilty to just the bribery charge for taking $12,000 in cash payments and Visa gift cards to secure business for HCC. His sentencing is set for Aug. 28.