Plea deal sparks outrage among some

May 1, 2012 4:35:47 PM PDT
On Tuesday evening, months after a plea deal was cut saving an immigrant from possible deportation, there is still a quiet storm inside the Harris County DA's office over it.

It was such a good deal, it's never been offered before or since, and the defense attorney has connections to the DA's BAT van scandal.

This really seems like a minor case -- a gas station employee sold an inspection sticker to an undercover cop without insurance. It's a crime. He admits he did it. But he got a good plea deal and it so upset some senior prosecutors who say it violated policy, the DA was forced to weigh in on it herself.

This is Mohammad Umer.

"My name is Jimmy," he told us.

Oh, he doesn't want to admit it, but it's him. There's his mug shot. There's the facts of his case from court documents. And there's the inspection sticker HPD says he fraudulently sold undercover cops without proof of insurance.

"Can I come here and get an inspection sticker without insurance?" we asked Umer.

He didn't offer a response.

He's not the only guy to get arrested for this kind of crime in Harris County, but he got what seems like a sweet deal to make the case go away. We'll show you how good it was in just a minute.

First...

"I take this very seriously," Harris County Pct. 4 Sgt. Eddie Hazel said.

Meet Sgt. Eddie Hazel. He's a Precinct 4 deputy constable and heads up an emissions task force, busting places that allegedly sell fraudulent inspection stickers.

The day we were with him, he seized two emissions machines and arrested the operators for giving cars a passing grade allegedly without ever passing an emissions test.

The operator is facing two to 20 years in a Texas prison.

"Absolutely it should be a second-degree felony," Hazel said.

Every one arrested by Hazel's task force is charged with a felony. And in court records, every similar case DA Pat Lykos' office has handled ended up as a felony -- except one.

"Talk to Mr. Rawlings," Umer told us.

Umer couldn't take the deal everyone else got because he's an immigrant and he could get deported with the usual deal. So his lawyer, Clay Rawlings, convinced the DA's office to drop Umer's case to a misdemeanor; Umer paid a $1,000 fine and walked away.

"Given the totality of the circumstances, it was a fair deal," Rawlings said.

But sources inside the DA's office say it was so out of the ordinary, supervisors complained about it all the way to DA Pat Lykos herself.

"To react this strongly, it seems strange. It seems out of kilter," Rawlings said.

To the defense lawyer, it might seem odd, but not to our sources at the DA's office, who told us the prosecutor in the court said no deal, his supervisor said no to this deal, her supervisor did too, but when the defense lawyer talked to the DA's right hand man, Jim Leitner, he agreed to it. But why?

Leitner says off-camera it was the right thing to do for a 61-year-old immigrant with no criminal history.

"This is an extensive investigation that they had to send undercover officers in to bust somebody," said Houston Police Officers Union Chief Ray Hunt.

Hunt says officers weren't contacted before the deal was made and he has serious questions about why it was done in the first place. Court records show Umer's case was the only felony defendant Clay Rawlings handled in all of 2011, but not the only time Rawlings was at the courthouse last year.

When Rachel Palmer, one of DA Pat Lykos' top assistants took the Fifth inside a grand jury investigating Lykos' office, Rawlings was by Palmer's side as her personal lawyer.

Palmer kept quiet, the grand jury never heard what she knew about Pat Lykos and BAT vans. Two months later, Umer got the deal cutting a possible prison term to a $1,000 fine.

"I don't know if it's him, if it's the attorney or who, but somebody -- somebody -- got a sweetheart deal here," Hunt said.

"There's zero connection, there's no connection whatsoever," Rawlings said.

In an off-camera interview, Leitner said he had no connection to Clay Rawlings or this deal, but did admit he went against unusual pressure from lower-level prosecutors to offer the bargain, something he points out he is allowed to do and is free to do in any case.


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