FBI launches investigation into Houston city hall

January 4, 2008 9:28:05 PM PST
Eyewitness News has learned the FBI has taken the lead role in the investigation of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole. We've been bringing you the exclusive details since October about his use of campaign money and the house a county contractor helped design.The news about Eversole isn't the only bombshell involving the feds and possible wrongdoing.

We've learned the FBI has delivered subpoenas to Houston City Hall looking for records of dealings with two companies and contractors with close ties to a slew of local politicians involved in the creation of city fire stations, county jails and even our football stadium.

You may not have heard of Michael Surface, but his name could soon be in the headlines a lot. He quietly resigned during the holidays as chairman of the powerful Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, the county created landlord of the Reliant Stadium complex. The county judge says he urged Surface to leave.

"As I told Mr. Surface, you need to take care of your personal business," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

13 Undercover has learned Surface is under scrutiny in an FBI corruption investigation that could become public in the coming weeks.

"He indicated there were things going on in his life that he thought he should leave and take care of," Emmett said.

Two years ago the former head of Houston's building department, Monique McGilbra, and Mayor Lee Brown's former chief of staff Oliver Spellman were found guilty of bribery in Cleveland. Newspaper accounts at the time also claimed the government was prepared to prove McGilbra had also been bribed by a company called Keystone here in Houston. Surface was a partner in the company, but neither he nor anyone else at Keystone was charged with a crime.

In 2002 a Houston Chronicle editorial called the company the keystone of Harris County cronyism.

"I know for a fact the FBI certainly hasn't talked to me, I wasn't around when anything alleged to have occurred, occurred," Emmett told us.

Commissioners El Franco Lee and Jerry Eversole led the effort to lease purchase county buildings from Keystone. Lee's former company did business with Keystone, Jerry Eversole's son shared office space with the company and while his company made millions from county contracts, Surface was reappointed chairman of the sports corporation by Commissioner Eversole.

Last fall we detailed Commissioner Eversole's questionable work habits and raised questions whether he improperly used campaign funds for personal benefit. While examining his work calendars, we found evidence of his favorite golf foursome. One of the players was Michael Surface, another was Leroy Hermes who was one of the architects of Reliant Stadium. Hermes got contracts at Reliant while Surface was sports corporation chairman. We also know Hermes did engineering work on the Commissioner's Eversole's house. So far Eversole has refused to say how much, if anything he paid for it.

"I'm not the keeper of another elected official, whether they choose to answer or don't choose to answer is up to them," Emmett said.

Tonight we learn the city hall subpoenas involve Hermes Firm and design work it may have done on a fire training academy. The subpoena also asks about expense records for a trip McGilbra took to Los Angeles. Add to this the ongoing controversy swirling around the District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and you get why the county judge was waiting for the next shoe to drop. Now it's dropped.

"It's like a spider with eight legs, shoes keep dropping here," Emmett said.

Michael Surface has refused to talk with us for weeks as we've begun to spread our investigation to the sports corporation and the Reliant Stadium. And once again emails are in the mix. The sports corporation lawyer told us Surface deleted emails involving sports corporation business written on his Keystone company computer.

"I think that's probably troublesome," Emmett told us.

We know the feds are examining the deals for the city's emergency dispatch center and at least two Houston fire facilities. But it's the names of the contractors under scrutiny and their millions of dollars in government contracts that may lead to lots of questions in the coming weeks for lots of elected officials.

- Headlines at a glance