13 Investigates confirms FBI searches home of restaurateur

ByTed Oberg and Sarah Rafique via KTRK logo
Saturday, August 20, 2022
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Our 13 Investigates team confirmed the FBI searched a Houston high rise for information related to a federal bribery case involving a city official.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Our 13 Investigates team confirmed the FBI searched a Houston high rise for information related to a federal bribery case involving one Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's top aides.

On Friday, the FBI confirmed it was lawfully present at an apartment in the Bayou Bend towers conducting court-authorized activity on Thursday. Typically that is government-speak for serving a federal search warrant.

The apartment is linked to Houston business owner Mario Azodinia, who is active in nightclubs and restaurants.

Azodinia is not returning calls or text messages. It is not clear if he has a lawyer; some who represented him in the past in civil cases did not return calls today. Azodinia told at least one associate we spoke with that the FBI was at his residence in connection with the case involving William-Paul Thomas, who abruptly resigned this month from his job as a top aide for Mayor Turner.

Thomas pleaded guilty on July 25 to federal public corruption charges after allegedly helping businesses operate despite unmet COVID-19 requirements at the height of the pandemic.

RELATED: Court documents say mayor's aide paid $13K to help reopen bar during restrictions

Unsealed documents in the case say a Houston restaurant and bar, along with another Houston bar and nightclub, knowingly conspired with Thomas around May 2020. The businesses were not explicitly named.

On July 6, 2020, someone offered Thomas $13,000 to have the necessary permit issued quickly, documents say. Thomas allegedly agreed, using his position in the mayor's office to "pressure other officials to grant the necessary permit."

The name of the business or others involved were not listed in court documents.

RELATED: 13 Investigates examines Houston mayoral aide's past

One of the restaurants Azodinia is connected to is the Seaside Lounge, just outside downtown. City records for permits Seaside Lounge needed match the dates in federal court documents, although that connection has not been drawn in court records.

Azodinia is not in custody, nor charged with any crime.

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