Ex-HISD trustee, several conspirators found liable in civil bribery case

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Former long-time HISD trustee Larry Marshall and several conspirators were found liable Wednesday in civil Federal Court for participating in a criminal enterprise.

The verdict can only be described as a stinging and far-reaching rebuke to Marshall, long seen as a leader within the Houston Independent School District and the city, and to what jurors' described as a cozy pay-to-play culture within HISD.

After weeks of hearing evidence, a jury declared that Marshall and others owe as much as $5 million to a company that claimed it did not get jobs as an HISD vendor because the company's president, Gil Ramirez, did not pay bribes to Marshall.

Alongside Marshall, others, including HISD vendor David "Pete" Medford and consultant Joyce Moss Clay were found liable for civil unlawful conspiracy, racketeering and a slew of other charges.

See all the charges and the jury decisions here.

"It's the way it works," Ramirez told ABC13. "I think today, that corruption at HISD took a blow. It's so entrenched, it's so deep. I think this case is just the tip of the iceberg."

But, "I finally feel there's been some vindication," he said.

Juror Lesley Beyer said she was stunned by the behavior of both the school district and Marshall, who served from 1999 to 2013.

"HISD's behavior was was reprehensible and Larry Marshall's behavior and choices were reprehensible," Beyer told Ted Oberg Investigates after the trial.

"The evidence showed that there is a long-standing culture of cronyism and pay-to-play schemes at HISD," she said.

Beyer was particularly outraged that top HISD brass would use outside law firms to investigate claims against Marshall -- and then not disclose the findings by hiding behind attorney-client privilege.

If I were a Houston taxpayer, I would be infuriated by the lack of transparency," she said.

After the trial, Marshall declined comment except to say he was not corrupt but "respected the jury's decision."

During the trail, lawyers argued that Marshall was a power broker on the board of Texas' largest school district -- and a force to be reckoned with by other trustees and top school officials.

In addition, they said, there was abundant evidence in the case suggested a 'pay-to-play' culture that permeated the district.

Marshall would routinely meet with vendors for the Houston Independent School District -- vendors who would hire a friend of Marshall as a consultant, who then kicked back 75 percent of the consultant fee back to Marshall, lawyers argued.

The consultant -- Joyce Moss Clay, who Marshall described as a "special friend" -- kept a tally that was shown in court that allegedly shows as much as 75 percent from vendors that Marshall had meetings with flowing to the trustee who served from 1997 to 2013.

The year before the civil lawsuit against Marshall was filed, that kickback total came to $59,175, court exhibits show.

See that document here.

Construction company Gil Ramirez Group filed a suit in U.S. Federal Court against in 2010 Marshall after the firm lost a contract with HISD, alleging it was because they failed to pay a bribe to Marshall.

Moss Clay explained the reason for the checks cut to Marshall in a 2012 deposition played in court.

"To be my mentor, to be my friend, to be my familial brother," she said. "It was just my choice."

Marshall's calendar shows he often met with the HISD vendor clients of Moss Clay, including Linebarger, a law firm that collects delinquent taxes, Fort Bend Mechanical, a construction firm, and Accel Building Maintenance, which performs janitorial and other work, as well as other firms.

At times he would meet at local restaurants, such as Triple A on Airline Drive, records show. Other times he would meet with vendors at spots that were a little more tony, like the Four Seasons in downtown Houston.

He would meet at his office, too, such as on August 10, 2008 with a notation showing he met with Joyce Moss Clay (JMC) and Accel, owned by Ricardo Aguirre. In the box noting the meeting he also wrote 'contract' with a check mark next to it.

Marshall lawyer Richard Morris argued in closing arguments that there was no evidence that Marshall was involved in bribery or contract steering.

"There is no evidence that Marshall was involved," Morris told the jury. He described Ramirez's argument as theories held together with "gum and bailing wire."

"There is no evidence that Larry Marshall interfered with procurement," Morris told the jury on Tuesday. "There is no evidence that Mr. Marshall harmed Mr. Ramirez's business."
Morris also called Ramirez's witnesses "largely irrelevant."

One of those witnesses was heard on a recording saying he slipped Marshall as much as $150,000.

"It's just ... it's just the way they do business," Fort Bend Mechanical construction owner David 'Pete' Medford was heard saying on tape when discussing bribery at the HISD.

Marshall has admitted in depositions that his campaign treasurer Clay had business relationships with companies seeking HISD contracts. Clay, in turn, admitted she had given a Marshall-owned consulting firm some of the proceeds from those companies. He denies any illegality as well as the bribery charges.

Medford also backed away from the $150,000 number under questioning. The tape was made years ago.

"I may have said that," Medford said Wednesday from the stand. "I don't remember the exact amount."

When asked if the number of alleged bribes was over $100,000, Medford said, "Absolutely not."

Both Morris, as well as other witnesses such as former HISD superintendent Terry Grier, said that Medford was an unreliable witness and was prone to lying.

A group of jurors said they believed that Medford was telling the truth when he was being recorded.

"Mr. Medford respects the jury's decision although we don't agree with the final verdict," Medford attorney Brooks Harrison said.

Harrison also said that his client will appeal the verdict "on multiple serious grounds."

Gil Ramirez attorney Chad Dunn argued that Marshall had a tremendous amount of influence over the board and could give special vendors contracts with Marshall's nod.

In his closing arguments this week, Dunn brought up evidence presented over the past four weeks.

"Did Marshall cause Ramirez harm?," Dunn said. "We think overwhelmingly it did."

Dunn also argued that this legal case went beyond Larry Marshall and pointed to numerous times where Marshall pressured school officials.

If they did not cooperate "they were shown the door," Dunn said.

"Marshall unrelentlessly pressured officials in the district," Dunn said, but also said that Houston City Council members, Houston Community College trustees and Harris County elected officials were closely watching this case.

"They will want to know the message you send," Dunn told the jury. "This is a case that will effect the fabric of the entire community."

Dunn said after the trial that he hoped the verdict would "change the way HISD does business."

"Ultimately, if the district isn't held accountable for what has happened here, then I'm afraid there won't be change," he said. "Otherwise, things will only get worse."

In a statement released after the verdict, HISD said taxpayers would not be liable for damages.

HISD was not a party to the litigation.

See gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial at abc13.com/briberytrial.
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