HOUSTON One of the most powerful elected officials in Harris County appeared in federal court today, bound in handcuffs and leg shackles, facing indictment in a political corruption case.
Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole and developer Michael Surface have been indicted by a federal grand jury in a case stemming from a long-running corruption probe that the commissioner himself predicted would eventually drive him from office.
Eversole is charged with conspiracy, receiving a bribe and filing false tax statements in 2003 and 2004.
Surface is charged with conspiracy and paying a bribe, allegedly to Eversole.
The indictment details a list of alleged bribes Surface gave to Eversole everything from vacations to an expensive suit to a down payment on his house in exchange for which Eversole allegedly voted to award Surface county contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.
It sends a pretty strong signal to everyone who's in elected office today that you need to be careful of what you're doing with your friends, said former Harris County Judge Robert Echols, who's been a long-standing critic of corruption within county government. You've got to be able to tell your friends no.
Both men pleaded not guilty to all charges.
This is a sad day for Jerry Eversole, but one we knew was coming for a long time, said Rusty Hardin, Eversole s attorney.
Eversole plans to keep his seat on commissioner s court pending the trial.
Why would you resign when you re accused of something you didn t do? said Hardin. And the voters elected him overwhelmingly.
Despite the federal bribery investigation, Eversole easily won re-election to his fifth term in office last month. He has been commissioner of Harris County s largest precinct since 1991.
Today s indictment of Commissioner Eversole presents a conflict between two very important rights -- the right of Harris County residents to have full confidence in the honest operations of their county government and the right of all Americans to be presumed innocent of any criminal charges until proven guilty, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said in a written statement. Commissioner Eversole has pleaded not guilty to these charges, and I certainly hope for a speedy completion of the judicial process.
Eversole has also been the focus of intense scrutiny over expenditures from his campaign money, which triggered a $75,000 fine from the Texas Ethics Commission.
Prosecutors allege Eversole also filed false tax statements in 2003 and 2004 because he failed to claim the purported bribes as income.
The list of county projects Eversole allegedly helped steer toward Surface included work done on the West Park Tollway, the construction of a building utilized by Child Protective Services on Murworth, and a maintenance storage facility on El Rio Street for Precinct one.
The list of county projects Eversole allegedly helped steer toward Surface covers everything from county office buildings to the Westpark Toll Road. Surface was also appointed director of Harris County Facilities and Property Management Department.
Surface and his business partner, Andrew Schatte, are also facing federal conspiracy charges in connection with bribery allegations at Houston City Hall. They re accused of giving gifts to Monique McGilbra, who was the director of Houston s Building Services Department, to win contracts to build the city s 911 call center and a fire station.
Eversole s friendship with Surface dates back some 25 years, according to Hardin.
It s unfortunate that in times like this we don t have better use of our federal resources, said Chip Lewis, Surface s attorney. Two district attorneys have vetted this relationship.
11 News legal expert Gerald Treece warned that the government's case against Eversole may not be that strong.
It's a bad day for Mr. Eversole. But at the same time, you wonder why it took the government so long to bring this case. And you wonder about the credibility of the case, Treece said.
Two years ago, Eversole startled even some of his allies when he blurted out, in a conversation with a Houston Chronicle reporter, that he expected federal investigators to force him from office.
I guarantee they can take that information that they ve got and the friends that they ve talked to and they can make a case on me, Eversole told the Chronicle in September 2008. That s why I say my days are numbered. There s no doubt about it.
Both men left the federal courthouse after posting $100,000 bonds. The trial is scheduled to begin February 22.
The case was randomly assigned to U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who has extensive experience trying political corruption cases. Hittner presided over three trials of Houston city political figures snared in an undercover sting operation in the mid-1990s.