New details revealed in DA's city contract probe

October 7, 2010 4:26:50 AM PDT
City emails show a councilman's office intervened to help a company qualify for a lucrative security contract with City Hall. The records were first uncovered by our 13 Undercover unit and are now in the hands of prosecutors. We have new details on that ethics probe underway at Houston's City Hall. Millions of dollars are at stake in this investigation because that's what companies who get the city's security contracts are paid.

Walk into Houston City Hall, and the first guy you'll see works for Wackenhut Security. You'll pass by metal detectors as surveillance cameras watch you. All are part of the expensive security at city-owned buildings.

[ See the full confrontation as Wayne Dolcefino approached Jarvis Johnson ]

Guards even keep watch at some of our parks now.

Wackenhut Security is the company in charge. They have two contracts worth $66 million. By law, Wackenhut has to give a piece of those contracts to go to woman- or minority-owned firms. That's also worth millions.

"So we don't get involved in the decision between the prime with regards to what subcontractor they're going to use," said Velma Laws, the city's affirmative action director.

Wackenhut was looking to replace the subcontractor they'd already chosen for Elite Security. By their admission, Elite Security had no income in February 2009. The company was operating out of an apartment, but Wackenhut was set to hire them anyway.

Councilman Jarvis Johnson then met with Wackenhut. The following week, an email to a Johnson aide said, "Please let him know that G4S Wackenhut is meeting with Elite Protective next week to work on the details of our partnership."

One requirement for Elite is certification from the mayor's affirmative action division, a process that could have lasted up to 30 days.

Emails show Councilman Johnson's office was clearly trying to help expedite the process for Elite.

"We definitely don't want any qualified subcontractors to miss an opportunity if they qualify," one email stated.

Three days later another email from Johnson's chief of staff said, "Councilman Johnson just received word that Wackenhut is getting ready to select another minority contractor because Elite's certification is not verified at this time ... Is this something we can get done today ... I need to brief my boss..."

Elite got its clearance and the potential millions of dollars in taxpayer money that went with it.

The affirmative action division denies special treatment.

"I want to talk to you about Elite Security," 13 Undercover told Johnson during a confrontation.

"You've already called and asked me enough questions, little Wayne," Johnson responded.

"I know we have enough information to show we have clean hands, and that's all I worry about," Elite's lawyer, Crystal Moody, said.

Elite claims it got the contract on its own, but now we know someone very close to Councilman Jarvis Johnson had been advising Elite. His name is Michael Harris.

Johnson has described Michael Harris before as his adviser, friend and current criminal lawyer.

"When I watched your show, it made a lot of sense," Moody said. "It brought a lot of answers to a lot of questions that we had."

Harris got 40 percent of the company in March for just $10,000. A month later, the city approved Elite for its first security contract. The company could end up making millions.

"I'm not answering any more questions from you," Johnson told 13 Undercover. "There is no DA investigation. I really appreciate you coming by today. Thank you so much. Take care of yourself now."

We've told you in recent weeks that the councilman recommended construction company Jamail & Smith to developers with city projects. Who's its consultant and lawyer? It's Harris.

Confront the councilman and you get this.

"Are you drunk or high right now? Because I can't answer any questions from anybody who is drunk or high," Johnson asked me.

State police require security companies to register all their owners. Houston's affirmative action requires companies to register all their owners, too. But records show Michael Harris was never registered his nine months as owner.

"Does that raise any concerns to you?" 13 Undercover asked Laws.

"Yes," she responded.

But Harris resigned from the company before affirmative action found out, but that hasn't stopped Wackenhut from trying to get rid of Elite anyway.

The affirmative action office has turned down their attempts.

"Unfortunately, you get caught up in the politics of it all," Laws said. "Unfortunately it is who you know. It's not what you know. It's not how good you are at the job or anything like that."

"I appreciate what you're talking about, little Wayne. I appreciate everything you're talking about, but right now, let's talk about how to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods," Johnson told 13 Undercover.

Wackenhut has complained political pressure is behind the city's refusal to let them drop Elite from the contract. The city denies that, but now we've learned City Hall is reviewing how affirmative action referees contracted disputes.

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