HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Gasps heard inside Houston City Council chambers on Tuesday signified the news of abrupt change happening at city hall.
"As you can see, there is one person who has always been standing right up here behind me who is not here," Mayor Sylvester Turner said to open Tuesday's session. "That's William-Paul Thomas. William-Paul has chosen to retire...He's made personal reasons to retire. While I hate it, I certainly respect it."
Turner referred to his director of council relations, whose tenure predates Turner's time as mayor.
While the sudden departure certainly stunned city hall, there appears to be more than a personal reason for it.
ABC13's media partner the Houston Chronicle reported on Tuesday evening that Thomas pleaded guilty on July 25 to federal public corruption charges.
Citing a source with direct knowledge of the situation, the Chronicle reports Thomas admitted to conspiracy to accept a cash bribe in exchange for changing a bar's classification to a restaurant, allowing the bar to stay open longer during COVID restrictions.
It was not immediately clear whether the charges are part of a broader federal inquiry into the city, and records on the case were not available Tuesday night, the report reads.
Thomas was released on bond after entering the plea.
The next day, Thomas submitted his resignation letter on July 26, which 13 Investigates obtained.
"Pursuant to our family physician's directive, it is what is best at this time," the email sent late that night to Mayor Turner read.
Eyewitness News reached out to Mayor Turner's office in the wake of the Chronicle's report.
"If what is being reported turns out to be true, I would be very disappointed," Turner said in a statement to ABC13.
A city council member has also weighed in. Councilmember Mike Kubosh, a Turner critic, met the report with little shock.
"Former Housing Director Tom McCasland said this mayor created a culture of corruption. This is further evidence of the corruption," Kubosh said in a statement to Eyewitness News.
The reported corruption case is the latest federal interaction with the city of Houston.
The FBI served a search warrant on the Houston Health Department in February as part of allegations of improper use of COVID funds involving a marketing vendor.
And last month, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the city's policies and practices related to illegal trash dumping and their impact on Black and Latino residents.