Events leading up to Eversole's corruption trial

March 8, 2011 7:33:05 AM PST
Opening statements are scheduled for today in the corruption trial of veteran Harris County commissioner Jerry Eversole.

Eyewitness News will be on top of the biggest local corruption trial in years. In Focus Reporter Ted Oberg will be covering the trial, but it's a 13 Undercover investigation that opened the floodgates for all of the commissioner's ethics troubles.

This morning, Eversole will be at commissioners court, voting to spend hundreds of millions of your dollars. A few hours later, he'll be at the federal courthouse, listening as federal prosecutors accuse him of trading integrity for bribes.

This is the last time Eversole talked in public about his troubles -- "I cannot try myself in the media," he said.

He faces federal charges he accepted a large number of bribes from county contractor named Michael Surface, not just for real estate deals, but to help Surface land the job as chairman of the Harris County agency that built Reliant Stadium.

"None of those gifts or loans that are detailed in that indictment actually happened?" we once asked Eversole.

"No, no," he replied.

Eversole's ethics troubles began more than three years ago when 13 Undercover hidden cameras documented a public official who rarely worked at his office and spent a lot of campaign money in questionable ways. The commissioner was eventually slapped with one of the largest ethics fines in Texas history. By then, he also knew the FBI was hot on his trail.

"All of us are being painted as being crooks," Eversole said in May 2008.

It's no secret the FBI has been investigating Surface for nearly a decade. He was indicted in January 2008 for allegedly corrupting former city building official Monique McGilbra.

We then detailed controversial real estate deals county commissioners had done with companies linked to Surface.

"What we have to make sure of is that there aren't any county scandals," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said.

It turned out there was one in the making.

"Let me explain something to you. There is nothing in law that says I ever have to talk to you. You're not a police officer. You're not an FBI agent. You're not a Texas Ranger," Eversole said.

Eversole was indicted before this Christmas. He's demanded a quick trial, but has showed signs of stress from his ethics troubles for a long while.

"I have spent the last 17, going on 18 years, trying to be above board and still get nailed," Eversole said.

His relationship with the county judge is now so frayed that another commissioner now sits between them.

Eversole maintains the looming federal trial doesn't make it difficult to do his job.

"I was elected to do a job as Harris County commissioner and I will continue to do that job," Eversole said.

But he'll be at the federal courthouse, not at his county office for weeks.

Eversole postponed a fundraiser he had planned right before the trial, bristling at suggestions he needed campaign money from county contractors to help pay his mounting legal bills. Eversole has already spent about $400,000 of his campaign funds fighting his ethics and criminal troubles.

"I'll get you a big chief tablet and some Crayolas and draw it out to you, but it's something that a politician does every year. That doesn't make sense?" Eversole said.

The 7 man 7 woman jury was seated yesterday. Federal Judge David Hitner says the two alternates won't know who they are until deliberations after closing arguments.

Opening statements are scheduled for this afternoon. Eyewitness News will be on top of the trial.