Ethics questions swirl around official

A 13 Undercover exclusive
January 15, 2008 9:16:32 PM PST
You've seen County Commissioner Jerry Eversole shopping, working out, even staying at home instead of going to his office. And now, new ethics questions are being raised. Eversole's use of your campaign donations is prompting a new call for an independent investigation.

Jerry Eversole spent more than $750,000 in campaign money in just eighteen months. It's illegal to use the money for personal use, so how does the commissioner explain what we've found?

We've questioned Jerry Eversole's work habits, but can you question his charitable giving? The commissioner's campaign video touts his years of giving as the honorary chairman of the annual Leukemia Society golf tournament, a recipient of their Service to Mankind Award.

Take a look at Eversole's campaign reports since January 1, 2006, and you'll find lots of charitable giving, more than $67,000 spent from campaign funds called donations, almost ten percent of all the money Jerry Eversole spent from campaign funds in eighteen months.

Fred Lewis is an expert on the ways you can spend campaign money.

"It's legal in state of Texas to give a donation to a charity," he said.

He also gives campaign money to charities and calls it 'public relations.'

The Astros' wives hold an annual black ties and baseball caps charity event for the Women's Center. Commissioner Eversole spent $4,000 for a table this year, $1,600 for a table last year, all from campaign funds listed as sponsor.

The commissioner spent another $6,850 of campaign money at that same event for what was called 'public relations.'

We now know County Commissioner Eversole used the $6,850 from campaign funds to bid on an auction item called the "Florida getaway," described by the charity as a fun packed vacation.

"Commissioner, I have a couple of questions for you," we said to the commissioner.

"Good," he replied.

"Did you use campaign funds for a Florida vacation?" we asked.

There were passes to Sea World, where you can see Shamu, passes to Universal Studios, and the Islands of Adventure, and tickets to two Astros spring training games.

"Spending campaign funds on a personal vacation is clearly a no-no," said Lewis.

We know from Jerry Eversole's own records he played golf there with a friend at the famed Metro Golf Course in Orlando. We know from emails he used government employees to help plan the itinerary, even down to the tee times.

"Does this pass the smell test?" we asked Lewis.

"No, it needs to be investigated by criminal authorities," he said.

The Florida getaway included free stays at hotels, but on the commissioner's handwritten calendar, we see the named hotels crossed out, both of them. Eversole's campaign records show he spent $2,100 more at another Orlando area hotel. That expense is listed as 'event expenses.'

"If you use it as personal use, it's a Class A misdemeanor," said Lewis.

On a day in September, we watched Jerry Eversole get in his county vehicle and leave town. Eversole and his wife stopped in Luling that day for barbeque on the way to a weekend gala in Kerville, a big shindig thrown by the former Texas Rangers Foundation.

In November 2006, Eversole's campaign lists a $27,990 charitable donation out of campaign funds.

"That's fine, good charity," said Lewis.

But again we learn Eversole was buying auction items.

"When you buy an auction item, you aren't giving something to the charity for free," said Lewis.

Eversole bought a Browning rifle that cost more than $5,700 and a $19,000 Colt pistol. After we called, the foundation told us the commissioner was in the process of giving the pistol back to the museum, but just the pistol. It's only been a year since he got it.

And the campaign records this year show $4,200 spent at the star gala for a community college out of campaign funds listed as 'public relations' on Eversole's sworn report.

Emails show it was another auction item called 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.' A champagne flight on a private plane to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a two-night hotel stay. The pilot says the trip hasn't been scheduled.

"This is getting to be a really, really bad situation," said Lewis.

And the commissioner, he just isn't talking. We've offered Jerry Eversole a lot of chances to comment and he's refused to answer any questions. That includes his relationship to a big county contractor, a trail that will lead us to the commissioner's house in the Heights. Our exclusive investigation continues Wednesday night at 10pm.

Tell Wayne what you think of the story on his blog.


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