Was Eversole's landscaping a bribe or a gift?

Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole's house in the Heights was landscaped and much of the bill was paid for by developer Michael Surface.

March 18, 2011 4:31:19 PM PDT
Was $17,000 worth of landscaping a gift or a bribe? That landscaping job was the focus of much of Friday's testimony in the political corruption trial of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, who is accused of exchanging political favors for bribes.

We heard more Friday on gifts received by Eversole. This time, the evidence was that Eversole's friend, developer Michael Surface, paid off a sizable landscaping bill for the county commissioner.

Eversole has a pretty nice house in the Houston Heights. Three bedrooms, three and a half baths, with extensive landscaping. On Friday in court, jurors got into the weeds on Eversole's trees and shrubs -- three hours of testimony about what Eversole has in his front yard, but more importantly who paid for it.

Eversole's landscaper told jurors it was a $27,000 landscaping job, but that Eversole himself only paid $10,000 and Surface paid the rest.

Dean Carpenter told the jury, "(Mike Surface) said, 'This is how I want you to do it. Send Mr. and Mrs. Eversole a bill for $10,000 even and send the bill for the balance to Sierra Golf, attention Mike Surface.' He said, 'Make it for "services.'"

Carpenter showed the jury the 8-year-old bills which our legal analyst says could be very important to show Surface not only gave gifts to Eversole, but tried to hide them, too.

"The docs will tell you about the relationship, whether it was a close relationship or hide the relationship; the transfers of money," KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy said.

Eversole and his attorney did not deny the payments from Surface to the landscaper on Eversole's behalf. Rusty Hardin didn't show a repayment from Eversole to Surface, but did focus attention on the fact Eversole wasn't part of the conversation to split the bill.

On Thursday, jurors heard testimony about votes that Eversole cast during his more than 20 years on commissioner's court.

Eversole is charged with conspiracy and bribery. If convicted, Eversole could get up to 21 years prison and be forced to pay $700,000.