Truth or Consequences

Jon Lindsay is an admitted liar and an accused perjurer. Should Harris County voters take him at his word - again?

Instead, he tried his hand as a legislative lobbyist, but quickly found that life outside of the backrooms of power was not to his liking. And so, a little more than a year after leaving county government, the irrepressible Jon Lindsay -- still under indictment and trailed by a cloud of questions about his actions that have never been fully resolved -- is once again seeking elected office.

The vehicle for Lindsay's intended return to public life is the District 7 seat in the state Senate. It's a prestigious job, all right, but quite a comedown, in both salary and power, from being the presiding administrative officer of the state's largest county.

Lindsay says he began considering the Senate race last summer, when rumors began circulating that incumbent Don Henderson might not stand for re-election. Dissatisfaction with Henderson's performance had been building in Republican circles, and former state highway commissioner John Butler and his wife Penny, a national GOP committeewoman, had lined up behind Jerry Dumas, an old business associate of Butler's, for a challenge to Henderson. Then Congressman Jack Fields announced his retirement, Henderson jumped into the congressional primary to replace Fields and Lindsay declared for the Senate seat, presenting Dumas with a far more potent opponent than he had expected. Since there is no Democratic contender, the winner of next week's GOP primary will be the new senator from District 7.

Yet the primary is about more than who will represent the most Republican legislative district in Texas. It's about the attempted vindication of Jon Lindsay, and whether Republican voters want to risk returning an accused perjurer and admitted liar to office.

Lindsay won't argue with the observation that there seems to be a thrill seeker within his mental makeup, one who in the past has favored scuba and skydiving to jack his adrenaline. But he took perhaps his biggest risk in 1985, when he began associating with a corrupt band of coke-sniffing, sex-partying land speculators led by the late Robert Corson and his mother, business partner and now federal fugitive Billie Jean Garman.

According to Lindsay, he was looking for new contacts as he pondered getting out of politics, as he periodically seemed to do during the latter stages of his two decades as county judge. He claims to have been unaware of the seamier side of Corson and company, saying that he initially considered Corson credible because he was a well-known land developer and the ex-son-in-law of political kingmaker Walter Mischer Sr.

Today, Lindsay describes his association with Corson as a serious lapse in judgment.

"I had a loose period there," he says. "I got in with somebody who was exploiting me, and I didn't realize I was being exploited. I wondered why that guy kept trying to talk me into running for governor. Now I know."

A Corson gofer and admitted felon, Billy Wayne Chester, would later claim the judge did a bit of exploiting of his own by accepting a $75,000 bribe outside the bar of a Mexican restaurant on Westheimer as a reward for assistance in getting a road built to enhance a parcel of Corson's property between the Hardy Toll Road and Interstate 45. Lindsay denied taking a bribe, and today claims that General Homes, rather than Corson, owned the land at the time the road was planned. That argument neatly ignores the fact that Corson had long been associated with General Homes and was negotiating to purchase the land before the roadway was proposed, and thus had good reason to curry favor with Lindsay.

Lindsay also accompanied Corson's entourage to boxing matches in Las Vegas and on a hunting trip in Mexico. Chester claimed prostitutes were part of the entertainment on those outings, but Lindsay terms the sex allegations "a pile of crap" and "absurd." At one point, Lindsay's wife, state District Judge Tony Lindsay, called the Chronicle to appeal to editors not to air the claims, arguing that people would have a hard time disregarding them, even if unfounded. The paper did detail Chester's bribery charges, but chose not to explore the other allegations in print.

"There's been a whole lot of other people I've done more traveling with [than Corson] that I've done business with, and never had this problem," says Lindsay. "I've been hunting more with John Bookout and Jim Lesch," he says, naming the retired CEOs of Shell Oil and Hughes Tool, respectively, "than with Corson. I only went hunting with him once."

Once, however, was more than enough.
Four years ago, Lindsay took another risky gamble when he invested nearly $195,000 from his campaign account in son Steve's plans to operate an outmoded fishing boat as a scuba diving vessel operating out of Honduras. Lindsay has since admitted that he had already sunk some of his personal funds into the venture, making for a messy mix of private and political moneys. He failed to report the campaign expenditures as required on his state-mandated disclosure reports, an omission that resulted in two perjury indictments by a Harris County grand jury that are still pending. Texas appellate courts have issued conflicting rulings on the application of the state's ambiguous laws regulating the use of political funds by candidates and officeholders. In addition to Lindsay, District Attorney Johnny Holmes has secured perjury indictments against County Commissioner Jerry Eversole and District Judge Lupe Salinas for similar violations. All await a final judgment in appeals courts.

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