IRS agent testifies in Eversole corruption trial

March 22, 2011 4:18:40 PM PDT
In the trial of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, the defense got its turn to cross-examine an IRS agent who detailed the dealings between Eversole and developer Mike Surface.

Millions of dollars were made through county contracts, but the question remains -- were those deals bought and paid for?

In addition to landscaping and travel and a suit, the jury saw even more evidence Tuesday morning of the items Eversole received from Surface -- thousands of dollars worth of collectible Colt-45s. And they saw government records showing Surface made $3.3 million in profit from Harris County contracts.

It's a lot of money and there were a lot of gifts, but the feds have to prove one is related to the other to convict Eversole on either bribery or tax fraud.

On the eighth floor of Houston's federal courthouse, jurors are getting a lesson in tax law. An IRS agent told jurors if Eversole received a gift, even tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, he didn't have to report it on his taxes, so long as it's a gift.

If it's a bribe then it's a crime, and that's the heart of the case and the very question lawyers spent hours fighting over Tuesday.

During a particularly heated cross-examination, Eversole's lawyer Rusty Hardin questioned IRS agent Stephen Caivano:

Hardin: What did Mr. Eversole provide in return for (these items)?
Caivano: It was his official actions.
Hardin: Which?
Caivano: Any of them.

There never has been a linkage from one gift to one vote, and according to the law there doesn't have to be. Caivano at one point from the stand said the indictment was based on "cumulative evidence and a pattern of behavior."

Earlier Tuesday

Jurors in Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole's corruption trial heard from an IRS agent Tuesday morning. The agent is expected to be one of the prosecution's final witnesses.

As the prosecution wraps up their case, they are trying to show that all of the deals that Eversole voted on have made developer Michael Surface a very wealthy man. Surface is a county developer and a longtime friend of Eversole.

The IRS agent testified that he went through Surface's corporate records and found out that from four of the five deals that are allegedly corrupt in the federal indictment Surface made $3.3 million profit. Federal prosecutors allege that Surface got those deals because he allegedly bribed Eversole.

There was more testimony Tuesday about gifts exchanged between the two men -- specifically historic pistols, checks and some mortgage help that Surface gave the Eversoles.

What we've seen in the prosecution's case so far is a continuing pattern of gifts from Surface. Prosecutors contend Eversole voted for Surface deals because of those gifts. On Monday, jurors heard about the numerous golf outings to places like Canyon Springs in San Antonio or Waterwood in Huntsville. There were also trips to ranches in New Mexico, Arizona and even a trip to Las Vegas where the group stayed at the Mirage Hotel.

Soon, the defense will get their turn. We've heard from Eversole's lawyer Rusty Hardin that Eversole's wife, former county judge Robert Eckels and current County Commissioner El Franco Lee will be some of the first witnesses called by the defense. We can expect testimony about the longtime friendship between Eversole and Surface and how the county works.

What has emerged over the last two and a half weeks is a look at how the county does business, how many county deals trade on relationships and the revolving doors of county employees moving into the private sector. It's a lot for the jury to digest and they will likely have another 10 days of testimony from the defense before they get the case.