More stories from the 13 Undercover 'Winning Hand' investigations and Commissioner Jerry Eversole
In Focus: Friendship between Eversole and developer
HOUSTON The indictments against him were unsealed on Tuesday, but Eversole's attorney says the government is criminalizing a friendship. So how can a friendship get you in this much legal trouble? It can be a blurry line when you're an elected official. No one disputes that Eversole and Michael Surface were friends, and they have been for decades, so we wanted to know more about the pair. According to associates and their lawyers, they've given gifts, loans and trips to each other for years. In the last ten years, almost $200,000 worth that we know of -- and that's a lot to explain to jurors. The indictment against Eversole lists 21 separate gifts from a county businessman to the county commissioner. Ranch vacations, golf trips, lots and lots of guns -- but there is one that stands out above them all: that $63,000 cashier's check in 2003 to pay off a loan on Eversole's Heights home. According to the indictment, Eversole needed to pay off a loan on the home and his longtime friend Michael Surface gave him the money. Since Eversole voted on projects before and after that helped Surface, the feds say it was a bribe. The feds say all 21 listed gifts were bribes to buy votes and support. Surface's lawyer says it's simply what good friends do for one another. "This is the federal government criminalizing a 30-year friendship," said Chip Lewis, Surface's lawyer. On Wednesday, Lewis said, "The house is the easiest one to explain." Lewis told Eyewitness News that Eversole and Surface shared an expensive antique gun collection, and when Eversole needed cash for the loan, he was going to sell his half of the collection. Instead, Surface gave Eversole a loan, which has since been repaid, Lewis says. Lewis also says Eversole is a bad record keeper. It's what the jury will hear, KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy says, that may be hard for them to believe. "The jury will be predisposed to believe that all politicians are crooked. It makes it hard for Eversole or anybody that has collected money," Androphy said. The assistant Harris County attorney said there is no smoking gun in the indictment and there really isn't. With a decades-long friendship, these were ongoing gifts. Any vote by Eversole to support Surface was at least a month away from any payment or gift and usually longer, according to the indictment.
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