Trip at center of testimony in Eversole corruption trial

March 16, 2011 3:41:32 PM PDT
For the first time in nearly a week of testimony, jurors in the bribery trial of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole heard about a trip he and Mike Surface took together. It is one of alleged bribes Eversole took.

To understand the trip, you'd have to know that Eversole is a huge fan of the cowboy lifestyle. He collects cowboy art, cowboy guns, antique guns, cowboy clothes -- all these things -- and so he, Surface and another man go out on a trip in 2002 to a ranch to learn how to shoot guns on the backs of a horse. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. It just depends who pays for it.

The Double Guest Ranch is a 30,0000-acre working cattle ranch in Gila, New Mexico.

Prosecutors flew the owner of that ranch all the way to Houston and Wednesday afternoon, she told the jury about Eversole's visit to the ranch in 2002.

Eversole was there with Surface and architect Leroy Hermes. Surface paid for the three-day trip for all three men -- $1,700 total.

The government alleges the three-day ranch getaway is one of the bribes Surface gave Eversole to convince the commissioner to steer Surface county contracts.

It's the first trip the jury heard about in five days of testimony. The total value of Eversole's ranch stay was less than $600.

Earlier in the day, Jason Hall, a 20-year employee of Surface, testified Hall was involved in several of the allegedly tainted county real estate deals, including one that Surface didn't want to be named publicly in.

"Isn't it correct that Mr. Surface didn't want to be publically associated with this bid?" Government Prosecutor John Pearson asked Hall.

"I would assume so," Hall replied.

The judge wouldn't allow it to go any further.

Prosecutors wanted the jury to hear more about Surface's secrecy, alleging it is tied in with his alleged shady side deals with the commissioner.

"People who do legitimate business are above board and they're not afraid to have anybody look at their documents. They're not afraid to have their name associated with it, they're not afraid to be involved in it, they're not afraid to have anybody look at it," KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy said.

That secrecy is really part of the government's case in the trial. They want to show that Surface didn't want anyone knowing how many county contracts he was getting and how close he was with Eversole.

The judge just wouldn't allow what the government wanted in or at least all of it today because Hall never heard Surface say it in those words and it was just witness speculation.

Another thing that came out Wednesday afternoon was a pattern of meals or golf that Surface would buy for Eversole. You decide whether you think the amount is outrageous: over a period of about six years, Surface paid for about 29 meals for the commissioner or golf outings. Added up, they amount to a little more than $5,200 -- not exactly a huge amount but certainly something a jury will consider.