HCC trustee: College paid lawyers thousands for nothing

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HCC trustee raises questions about investigations surrounding Chris Oliver . (KTRK)

A Houston Community College trustee is challenging the college's effort to clean up its image in the wake of a corruption scandal.

Dave Wilson, a frequent critic of the college he oversees, has questions about the relationship between HCC and some of its own well-paid lawyers.
HCC trustee Chris Oliver pleaded guilty to corruption charges this summer. He is awaiting sentencing early next year, but since the plea was made public, HCC has tried to figure out what went wrong. They've spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars doing it.

To date, they have no answers and Wilson said he is tired of waiting.

Since July, HCC has worked with four lawyers to examine how the college awards contracts after Oliver's guilty plea. So far, $200,000 in taxpayer funds have paid for the investigation and Wilson says the college doesn't have anything to show for it.

"Zero," Wilson said. "A lot of hot air."

The first attorneys hired last summer, Gene Locke and Vidal Martinez, quit before issuing any report. Locke, a one-time county commissioner, suddenly realized a conflict of interest. He'd previously hired Oliver while at Harris County.

Martinez appears to have stopped work when trustees turned down a budget increase. The pair billed $209,000 before quitting.

Wilson's private investigator Wayne Dolcefino reviewed the bills.

"There needs to be a review and a refund of the legal fees paid for this investigation," Dolcefino said.

HCC has since hired two more attorneys with more of your money to continue the post-Oliver review. That type of legal spending is part of what Wilson is targeting.

A report from Dolcefino today suggests HCC spent $15 million in the last seven years on outside counsel. Some of those outside firms have donated directly or through committees to trustees' political campaigns, according to the report.

And that, Wilson suggests, creates even more potential issues.

"The two biggest threats are corruption and complacency," Wilson said. "If we let corruption go on at HCC and if the public is complacent, it will tear that institution apart."

We reached out to HCC and some of the attorneys mentioned in the report Wednesday morning.

Late Thursday, we received a statement from Eva Loredo that reads in part, "Trustee Wilson has repeatedly voted against any independent review of the college's contracting practices and has instead chosen to hire a former reporter turned political consultant to be his personal investigator. There is nothing independent or unbiased about a report commissioned by a single trustee and it would never be appropriate for the college to rely on investigative findings sponsored by a single board member."

"While the board welcomes and will share all relevant factual information with the firms responsible for conducting an independent review of the college's practices, it cannot support a costly and less than transparent investigation that appears to be more about promoting a personal political agenda, including pursuit of political vendettas against others, rather than working to improve the college."

HCC trustee Chris Oliver is due to be sentenced in January.

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