Did judge's brother-in-law profit?

June 4, 2009 4:13:01 AM PDT
His company was paid a million dollars to clean up Hurricane Ike debris in Liberty County. Did it help that his brother in law is the Liberty County judge?Lavernia, Texas, is 200 miles away from Liberty County. Just follow the dirt-covered road and you come to the headquarters of MWM Enterprises. It's also the home of the company's owner, Mark Miksch.

"I asked you to leave my property. That's the last time I'm going to say it," said Miksch to us when we tried to ask some questions.

So follow the latest developments on the hurricane trail.

C & C is a company with the contract to clean up debris in part of Liberty County Precinct 2. MWM was hired to run the daily operations. C & C says they offered the best deal.

MWM was paid about one million dollars. We still don't know how much personal profit that meant for Miksch, or his brother-in-law, Liberty County Judge Phil Fitzgerald.

"Now you're getting into my personal finances," said Judge Fitzgerald.

We first linked trucks owned by the county judge to the county contract he administered in March prompting ongoing state and federal investigations. This was our only interview with Fitzgerald in March.

"I've been in the construction business for 20 years. I have all my equipment. It's all paid for," said Judge Fitzgerald.

However, there is now evidence Judge Fitzgerald may have actually bought equipment after the contract was signed and that may be significant to criminal investigators.

Truck records originally turned into Liberty County said MWM was the truck company. After we challenged the records, they were amended to identify the real owner, Hard Rock Construction, which is Judge Fitzgerald's company.

The trucks were so new they didn't have license plates yet. That means FEMA investigators can't identify these trucks or the payments for their work from the records.

This document claims this MWM truck is owned by someone named Saunders. In fact, we've traced it to Judge Fitzgerald. It was used in hurricane cleanup work, but not registered by the judge until December.

Guess where the Cleveland Advocate newspaper found the truck sitting? On property owned by Jessica Vickery.

The county judge has been executor of Vickery's estate, but is now being sued for mismanaging it. He denies it, but the judge also faces investigations for dismissing her father's DWI case despite potential conflicts.

"The government loves phone records to put people together at a certain place of time," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

Since Mark Miksch and Judge Fitzgerald are related, phone calls may not be that unusual. So we examined the judge's cell phone records for the four months before the hurricane. We found just seven cell phone calls between the two in those four months.

After the hurricane, a much different story.

In the days before the contract was awarded, there were at least seven calls. Judge Fitzgerald won't release all his phone records.

On the day of the contract, Judge Fitzgerald called Miksch before the vote, and there were four calls after the vote. The week after the contract was handed out, there were 46 calls.

"You turn everything around when you get on TV," said Miksch.

Liberty County Commissioner Lee Groce chose C & C and says he didn't know the judge was making money on the contract. The other company Groce chose is owned by a lifelong friend that paid for Groce to go to his wedding in Vegas.

"They were both capable, they were both local. They weren't storm chasers. The majority of that money stayed in Liberty County," said Groce.

A lot of the money did certainly stay in Liberty County. Among the beneficiaries were the lifelong friend of one county commissioner, the county judge, and his family.

Commissioner Groce claimed our story about him was part of our vendetta because he won't ask the county judge to resign.

The 13 Undercover investigation in Liberty County is being done with the help of the Cleveland Advocate newspaper, one of our Houston Community Newspaper partners.

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