Two years ago, a northwest Harris County neighborhood turned to Eyewitness News for help. They were afraid two of their elected MUD directors were stealing from them.
That's when 13 Undercover went to work.
This story is sending a message in neighborhoods across town where folks elect their neighbors to run water and sewer systems called MUD districts. Thursday State District Judge Joan Campbell made sure the message was heard loud and clear.
Former MUD directors Steve Strange and Bob Carlisle were taken away by deputies late Thursday. They had offered to repay what they stole from the neighbors but it was too late.
"These are good men who went astray temporarily," said defense attorney Ken Mingledorff.
They went astray long enough to rip off their northwest side neighborhood of more than $100,000 in water and sewer money. Of course one of their defense lawyers had to blame me for all their trouble.
But it was the residents of MUD #16 who came to us for help two years ago when they thought two of their water and sewer directors were going shopping with their money.
"I believe that it devastated our neighbors, it devastated us," said Diane Roark who is President of NW MUD #16.
Our Muddy Waters investigation exposed the resort trips and the souvenirs including the lube jelly and condoms on expense accounts.
And the trail exposed the shopping spree at Home Depot. We tracked the receipts to see what was bought and we exposed it all.
MUD director Steve Strange picked up a glass fire screen for $199. Do you see a fireplace in the rec center? We didn't.
And we can't find the 27 inch flat-screen TVs. Steve Strange bought two and four days.
In court those same receipts were used to suggest Strange and Carlisle remodeled their homes with money ripped off from their neighbors.
"The impact of what happened in Northwest #16 was felt throughout the whole water industry," said Roy Lackey of MUD # 338.
Elected MUD directors from other parts of town even came to hear the sentence.
"Our reputation is sullied by this stuff," said Rich Doll of MUD #28. "It really brought down."
The punishment? Four years in prison.
"I am surprised at the harshness of the sentence I think four years is harsh sentence," said Mingledorff.
The Muddy Waters investigation has sent a message.
"If you're stealing quit it now," said Roark. "If you're not, keep doing the good work."
"Guys like you that do this investigative reporting, this to me is the best part of the media," said Doll.
That's of course why we're here, so if you suspect a government official is ripping you off, call us.
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