Convicted HCC trustee promised to make now-city official "millionaire"

Convicted Houston Community College trustee Chris Oliver promised to make Houston's now-public works director a millionaire, according to new details released in a court transcript in Oliver's bribery case.

Oliver agreed to plead guilty in a May 15 arraignment to federal bribery charges. In that arraignment, federal prosecutor Andrew Leuchtmann outlined how Oliver began taking money from Karun Sreerama. At the time, Sreerama was the owner of ESPA Corp., a company that provided engineering and consulting services to HCC.
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Mayor Sylvester Turner named Sreerama the director of Houston's public works department in the spring of 2017. Public works is the city's largest department.

Leuchtmann outlined nearly 10 meetings between the two men starting in May 2015.

On May 29, 2015, Oliver and Sreerama met at a restaurant where Oliver asked if Sreerama was working on behalf of law enforcement. Oliver said he had helped Sreerama get business with HCC in the past and could do it again, then the pair agreed on a $2,500 per month payment from Sreerama based on "what he had paid him in the past," Leuchtmann said.

A few days later, the two met at a coffee shop where Sreerama gave Oliver an envelope with $2,500 in cash.

"Oliver told [Sreerama] that if he found a contract to bid on and a certified company, he would make him a millionaire," Leuchtmann said.

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About a month later, they met again and Sreerama gave Oliver another envelope with $2,500 in cash.

"Oliver provided [Sreerama] with a list of the various contracts at HCC and implied that if he asked, he would deny all knowledge of how [Sreerama] got the list."

In August, the pair met again, this time Oliver was paid $2,000 in cash and with a $500 gift card.

"Oliver discussed voting on contracts that [Sreerama] was competing for stating, 'Unless you say something, I won't be voting for it. If I vote, it is going to stick.'"

In November, Sreerama met with Oliver to tell him he found a company to use in order to bid on a pest control contract. Oliver told him he would use his influence to move the company up the bid list so they had a better chance of getting the contract, Leuchtmann said. Sreerama paid Oliver $1,000 in cash and $500 on a gift card.

At another meeting in February 2016, Oliver complained he wasn't getting paid enough. He told Sreerama the contract was kept off the board meeting agenda so he convince the board to vote in favor of Sreerama's company, Leuchtmann said. At this meeting, Oliver was paid $1,100 in cash and $400 on a gift card.

The pair met three more times over the span of as many months, where Oliver continued to tell Sreerama that he was working to convince the board to vote for Sreerama's company.

"When KS told him that the company he was using to bid on the pest control contract was not willing to pay him anymore money without some results, Oliver ended the relationship," Leuchtmann said.

Sentencing is now scheduled for Nov. 13.

Sreerama's attorney Chip Lewis directed questions about the information to the federal government. Turner suspended Sreerama with pay and promised a full review of the case. That review is ongoing.

Lewis has previously held that Sreerama was the victim in the case and has fully cooperated with authorities.

Sources close to the case suggest that Sreerama may have been working with the FBI at the time of the payments. An email request for comment sent after hours Thursday was not immediately returned.

The details of the now unsealed arraignment were first reported by TexasMonitor.org.

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houston community collegeTed Oberg Investigatesbribery
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