By Sean Pendergast
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By Sean Pendergast
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By Richard Connelly
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Lindsay figures that he'll continue his lobbying in the city even if he wins the Senate seat. It's an activity from which some Harris County legislators have derived income in the past, even though the Legislature brokers a myriad of city and county issues. Lindsay says he sees no problem with such lobbying, as long as it would present no direct conflict with legislation he might be voting on.
The Port of Houston Authority, half of whose board he helped appoint while county judge, provided Lindsay's biggest local payday -- a $120,000 contract to consult with state officials and others on funding for additional rail links to the Barbers Cut Terminal. It was a job that some critics argued could have been performed by the Port Authority's staff. Among the itemized $5,000 monthly billings Lindsay submitted were ones for "touring the site and visiting with potential users and participants" and another for "continuing dialogue" with Southern Pacific Railroad and state transportation officials. The contacts in state government he made in developing the Hardy Toll Road, Lindsay says, made him the logical choice for the Port contract. He's notified the Port that he's wrapping up his work on the project next month, and will cap the deal after receiving $60,000.
Port Authority chairman Ned Holmes was also the chairman for Lindsay's last big fundraiser before he left office. That infusion of cash replenished Lindsay's campaign fund, which he then tapped to pay his legal bills, provide contributions to his wife's campaign fund and those of other political friends and, more recently, to fund his current political venture. While initially raising only $7,900 for his Senate bid, Lindsay is conducting a last-minute TV advertising blitz using some of the $300,000 he budgeted from the campaign account he amassed as county judge.
The table centerpieces for the Holmes-chaired fundraiser were toy trucks loaded with gravel, as succinct a summary of Lindsay's philosophy of mixing politics and public construction as one could ask.
"Yeah, I kept one," Lindsay says with a laugh. "When my grandson gets big enough, he'll start playing with it."
Along with the toy, the proud grandfather is also in a position to educate the boy on what to do should the district attorney come calling.
Perhaps the best untold story of Lindsay's legal troubles concerns a visit that Johnny Holmes made to the judge at his office in the county administration building in the summer of 1994, after the district attorney learned Lindsay had used campaign funds to buy and refurbish the boat for his son Steve.
Unknown to Lindsay, Holmes was wired for sound when he dropped by, and he proceeded to engage the judge in a candid conversation. Since the perjury indictments are under appeal and have never made it to trial, the contents of the Holmes' tape have never been revealed. Lindsay believes the tape exists, but refuses to discuss his chat with the D.A.
During a 1994 deposition for Driscoll's suit to remove him from office, though, Lindsay recalled being shocked by Holmes' visit.
"He told me I was under an investigation here, and it shook me up," Lindsay testified. "I don't remember what I said then."
A source at the district attorney's office offers this synopsis of Lindsay's version of the boat deal, as told to Holmes: "He had a son he loved very much, an engineer who hated engineering, who was depressed and distraught, who loved scuba diving." Lindsay saw the boat as an opportunity to get his son out of the house and off in some other direction. "Most of us don't have a hundred-and-fifty grand lying around to go buy a boat with. I suspect he didn't [care] where it came from, and did not for a moment think it was something he shouldn't be doing, until after the fact."
Lindsay displays no rancor toward Holmes for the taping. "Well, I think Johnny's got his ways of doing things," he says. "I imagine I'm not the first one he's taped, if indeed he did."
If Lindsay did tell Holmes he bought the boat to give his son something to do, he's since changed the story. Now, Lindsay insists he fully expected to "quadruple my campaign account" with profits from the boat's operation. But he concedes that allowing politicians to ladle out campaign funds to family members probably isn't a good idea. "I thought it was going to be a big moneymaker," he says. "I was obviously wrong."
Somehow, you get the impression he's more chagrined by not making the money than crossing any ethical boundaries.
Lindsay attorney David Berg confirms that the taping occurred. He declines to say whether it was unethical, but allows, "I don't think Johnny's proud of what he did." The lawyer believes the tape will be suppressed if the charges against Lindsay ever make it to trial.
As for the fishing boat, Berg adds dryly, "Nobody's saying that was a smart investment."
It must not have been. Steve Lindsay is back living with his parents in the house off Kuykendahl. These days, he's building a wooden rowboat in a workshop behind the house. Presumably, its construction is not being subsidized by his father's campaign fund.
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