Jerry Eversole trial underway

March 7, 2011 2:51:11 PM PST
Jury selection is underway in the political corruption trial of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole. Eversole is accused of taking money from a friend's company in exchange for county contracts. The accusations stem from a series of investigations by 13 Undercover Reporter Wayne Dolcefino.

On trial for his political life, Eversole didn't say a word as he arrived at the federal courthouse Monday. All Rusty Hardin, Eversole's lawyer, would say is that he feels good about the case.

"We're definitely ready," said Hardin.

They were ready Monday to pick the jurors who will rule on a four count federal indictment alleging bribery, conspiracy and tax fraud. Jurors will decide whether hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, tickets and trips from a county contractor to a county commissioner are evidence of bribery or brotherhood.

Eversole says all the gifts have an innocent explanation, but one our legal analyst isn't so sure it's believable.

"When it's a consistent pattern of large dollars like this, it's beyond friendship," said KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy.

That doesn't mean it will be an easy case to make. In a trial that's expected to last more than a month, government prosecutors have to prove that Eversole really was trading his county commissioner's vote for cash.

In this case, there is no smoking gun, no secretly made videotape of Eversole accepting money or even an email agreeing to a deal; just document after document detailing the expensive and expansive things real estate developer Mike Surface did for his alleged good friend and county commissioner.

"Friends take each other to dinner, but friends don't give gifts in large amounts of money," said Androphy. " The only friends that may exchange some gifts are ones where there's a business relationship."

In this case, federal prosecutors say that business relationship would be something that crosses the legal line.

Opening statements are due to begin Tuesday afternoon, after Commissioner Eversole takes part in a vote at commissioners court involving $1.4 billion in county tax dollars.

Among some of the high-profile witnesses who are scheduled to testify are Astros owner Drayton McLane, Texans owner Bob McNair and at least half a dozen people who have held office in Harris County.

If convicted, Eversole could get up to 21 years prison and be forced to pay $700,000. The sentence will not be decided by the jury since this is federal court. That will be handed down by the judge.

Eversole's career is also on the line. He is a six-term term commissioner.

Surface was granted a separate trial, scheduled to start this fall. Both men have pleaded not guilty.