County Commissioner Jerry Eversole indicted

December 30, 2010 7:50:01 AM PST
Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole was indicted Tuesday and he is now facing serious prison time. From conspiracy to bribery, the veteran commissioner was brought into court wearing shackles to face a litany of charges.

In the indictment unsealed in federal court, Eversole was charged with conspiracy and receiving a bribe, as well as filing a false tax return in 2003 and 2004. If convicted, he faces up to 21 years in prison. Developer Michael Surface was indicted for conspiracy and giving a bribe.

It's been two and a half years since Eversole himself said he expected to be indicted by the federal government on corruption charges. It's all part of what 13 Undercover has been investigating for years.

Twenty three years have passed since a commissioner in Harris County has been indicted on corruption charges.

Eversole is alleged to have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal gifts from an already indicted developer named Michael Surface.

"This is the federal government criminalizing a 30-year friendship," said Chip Lewis, attorney for Surface. "It's unfortunate that in times like this, we don't have better use of our federal resources."

Eversole voluntarily surrendered and was free on $100,000 bond. He left the federal courthouse late Tuesday afternoon without comment. He pleaded not guilty and his lawyer is vowing a fight.

"I will tell you right now what I think and hope will be shown in a courtroom. Jerry Eversole is absolutely not guilty on any counts alleged in this indictment or any other criminal conduct," said Eversole attorney Rusty Hardin. "He and Mike Surface have been friends before Jerry Eversole ever became a commissioner."

Eversole was not present at commissioners court Tuesday, but did appear in handcuffs and leg irons for the 2pm federal court session, where the indictment was unsealed.

"It is not against the law to be friends. It is not against the law to do mutual things on behalf of friends. It is only against the law to do things for some official action. Jerry Eversole never did that. Mike Surface never asked him to do that," said Hardin. "At the end of the day, it's not a criminal activity at all."

"They set out 60 different actions between Commissioner Eversole and Mr. Surface that forms the basis of their conspiracy count," said Lewis. "Their bribery count is just a blanket quid pro quo that Eversole did things in return for services favored."

Among the things that Surface supposedly gave Eversole are trips and antique firearms, and he is accused of helping to pay the down payment on his house, landscaping and even a custom-tailored suit.

Both Eversole and Surface pleaded not guilty. We're told bond is set at $100,000 each.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett released the following statement Tuesday following the indictment:

    "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. Commissioner Eversole has pleaded not guilty to these charges, and I certainly hope for a speedy completion of the judicial process."

Fallout from Eversole indictment

Eversole wasn't at commissioner's court Tuesday morning. His chair was empty; his voice silent. He was instead preparing to be handcuffed and led into federal court to face bribery charges.

But he apparently plans to be back to the commissioner's court table very soon.

When we asked Hardin if Eversole will resign, Hardin replied, "Why would you resign when you're accused of something you didn't do? The voters elected him overwhelmingly. He's there to be a commissioner and he'll continue to do the commissioner's business."

With a trial set for February, there is no legal requirement for Eversole step down unless he is convicted. The county attorney's office met extensively with the feds before the indictment and they don't see any need for Eversole to step aside either.

"The facts in the case appear to be ones that have already been in the news. There doesn't appear to be a smoking gun," said Terry O'Rourke with the Harris County Attorney's Office.

But there are serious allegations that Eversole asked for and accepted gifts from property developer Michael Surface in order to vote Surface's way.

Tuesday's indictment prompted the county Democratic chairman to call on Eversole to step down.

"It's important to recapture the public trust and when individuals are charged with impropriety as it relates to their government service, they should step down until it's settled," said Harris County Democratic Chairman Gerry Birnberg.

Democrats had no opponent to run against Eversole in the most recent election. Republicans say they'll go through the indictment, but see no immediate need for him to step down.

Long and winding investigation

It's been a long road for Commissioner Eversole. Back in 2007, our 13 Undercover investigation questioned Eversole's work habits. Our hidden cameras found him working out, shopping or just staying home when he was supposed to be on company time. It then led to a federal investigation. He paid a $75,000 ethics fine which was the largest in Texas history at the time in 2009.

But it's always been an investigation involving alleged gifts from contractors. This stems from a federal investigation from 10 years ago.

Surface, along with developer Andrew Schatte, was indicted in January 2008 due to their relationship and alleged gifts that Eversole received from them. They have still not come to trial.

Eversole is the first Harris County commissioner to be indicted since Bob Eckels in 1987.

The Harris County attorney's office is looking over the indictment as well as state law regarding removing someone from office. Eversole was released on $100,000 bond, his trial date is scheduled for February 22nd.

Stay with ABC13 Eyewitness News and abc13.com as we will continue to bring you the latest in the indictments of Jerry Eversole.

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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