13 Undercover continues its 'winning hand' probe

July 18, 2009 5:18:57 AM PDT
New financial records show embattled Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations on legal troubles. To get the winning hand, it helps to have the luck of the draw. Maybe that's what developer Michael Surface had. Because he got the winning hand on lucrative Harris County real estate deals.

"Let me explain something to you. There is nothing in the law that says I have to talk to you. You're not a police officer, you're not an FBI agent, you're not a Texas Ranger," said Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole to 13 Undercover's Wayne Dolcefino.

Now we now know from a federal court hearing in January the FBI was investigating allegations that Commissioner Eversole got "benefits" and "things of value" from Surface and a company he helped run, while commissioners were approving those real estate deals.

"You know more about it than I do, Wayne," said Commissioner Eversole.

Surface lawyer Chip Lewis told us, "Mike Surface and Jerry Eversole have been friends for decades. There has never been any quid pro quo and I challenge the government to find it."

We've already told you the FBI had been investigating Eversole's campaign spending and the design work done on his house by Leroy Hermes, founder of an architecture firm involved in many of the same county real estate deals.

But there are signs the Eversole investigation may be impacting possible plea negotiations on the Michael Surface case. In a court transcript obtained by 13 Undercover of a pre-trial hearing, Surface lawyer Chip Lewis says his client would consider a plea deal if, "Mr. Surface wraps up all of his problems with the federal government relating to this indictment and Mr. Eversole. I want him not to go to prison. The government wants some juice for that. They want something in return."

At the time of the hearing, the government said ongoing investigations weren't impacting the Surface prosecution. In January 2008, Surface had been indicted on charges he conspired to bribe a city official, wire fraud, and lying to the FBI. So was another Houston developer -- Andrew Schatte. They both pled not guilty.

It's all part of a nine-year old corruption probe that began in Cleveland, but quickly implicated former officials in Lee Brown's administration, former Parks Director Oliver Spellman, and former Houston building official Monique McGilbra.

The continuing investigation as of January clearly included Harris County real estate deals. Those deals were chronicled in our winning hand investigation.

Chip Lewis told us, "The feds are not here because Mike Surface and Andy Schatte gave away some football tickets. They are here because they want a public official."

Jerry Eversole is the latest named target of the corruption investigation. His newest campaign finance report shows he's spent $52,000 of his campaign funds on criminal defense lawyer Rusty Hardin, and that's just since January.

The Justice Department won't comment, but court records show Surface lawyer Lewis has now filed motions alleging FBI misconduct. The motions are sealed and it's unclear if this will delay the scheduled September trial or affect the government's continuing investigations.

It's been almost two years since 13 Undercover exposed Commissioner Eversoles' questionable work habits at the time, his possible use of campaign funds to enhance his lifestyle, and the thousands just for the commissioner's Starbucks habit.

The Texas Ethics Commission fined Eversole's campaign $75,000 this month. The embattled commissioner also agreed to repay $41,000 back to his campaign, including repayment of an apparent vacation he took on campaign funds.

"There was no stealing, Wayne. The trip to Florida, I didn't even contest the trip to Florida because you made such an issue of it," said Commissioner Eversole.

On the new campaign report, there's not a dime spent at the coffee houses.

The FBI said they they have no comment, at least not for now. The political connections between the folks who got the winning hand on big real estate deals and the people who deal the cards are interesting viewing.

More stories from the 13 Undercover 'Winning Hand' investigations and Commissioner Jerry Eversole

Who has the winning deal?

Strange Harris County land deals

Who got the winning hand?

Eversole has no plans to resign

Commissioner Eversole to pay back money

Large fine for Comm. Eversole's campaign

Grand jury gets evidence on Eversole

Jerry Eversole ethics bombshell

Eversole admits mistakes in campaign report

Questions about Jerry Eversole's house

Ethics questions swirl around official

Commissioner Eversole's office time investigated


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