Houston public works director placed on leave after alleged involvement with bribery case

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
City's public works director placed on leave
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City's public works director placed on leave

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner placed the city's public works director on leave after his alleged involvement with a Houston Community College trustee indicted for bribery came to light in court records.

"I am placing city Public Works and Engineering Director Karun Sreerama on administrative leave with pay, effective today, while I review the entire matter stemming from a federal grand jury indictment naming him as the victim of a bribery scheme," Turner said in an emailed statement.

RELATED: Court records show top Houston official made payments to indicted HCC trustee

Sreerama gave HCC trustee Chris Oliver payments of more than $77,000, court records allege. Sreerama made the payments thinking his company wouldn't get contracts with HCC without it, his lawyer said.

"I'm disappointed in the mayor's decision, frankly," Sreerama's attorney Chip Lewis said. "Any conclusion that Karun was less than candid or did what he shouldn't have done is wrong."

"Nothing Karun did was in any way, shape or form illegal," Lewis said.

Trustee Oliver approached Sreerama three times asking for money, according to Lewis. At the first meeting, Oliver allegedly told Sreerama he was going through a divorce and could not pay expenses for two households. Sreerama allegedly loaned Oliver thousands of dollars after that meeting. It was never paid back.

RELATED: HCC trustee pleads guilty to federal bribery charges

At a second meeting, Lewis told ABC13 Investigates that Oliver explained he was adopting a child and needed to have a particular balance in his bank accounts. Lewis says Sreerama again gave Oliver thousands of dollars.

The third time, Sreerama agreed to hire Oliver's construction site clean-up company to sweep a strip mall for Sreerama.

"Because I was not aware of the federal case until this week, which is when the indictment was revealed, I am taking this action so that I may thoroughly review the information to make sure there are no further related implications for the city and him," Turner said. "It is against everyone's best interest for a public servant to have to operate under a cloud, as Mr. Sreerama and I have discussed in a brief telephone call. I continue to have confidence in Karun and look forward to his return."

Sreerama kept the investigation quiet on the urging of federal law enforcement and risked jeopardizing a multi-million dollar case if he said anything, Lewis said.

Oliver was indicted on one count of extortion and one count of bribery. He pleaded guilty to the bribery charge.

HCC scheduled an emergency meeting Thursday to vote on censuring Oliver.

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