By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jeff Balke
In Like a Lion
In case you'd forgotten about it, the FBI investigation of alleged corruption at City Hall is still out there, but the seeds won't start poking up at the federal building until at least mid-March. Indications are the government's sting all-stars, as drafted by the grand jury sifting through a mountain of audio and video recordings and other evidence, will include two current councilmembers, two former councilmembers and at least two non-officials.
On the other hand, Councilwoman Gracie Saenz, who had only peripheral contact with the federal agents posing as Latin-American businessmen attempting to buy Council votes, reportedly has been examined and cut loose as a free agent.
Councilmen Jew Don Boney and Felix Fraga also appear to be off the starting squad and in line for hand slaps, rather than amputations, for infractions involving the acceptance of illegal campaign cash.
Meanwhile, the probe of wastewater giant PSG's web of contributions to councilmembers is moving along a separate track, in concert with a nationwide federal probe of PSG's political activities, and will have a later day before the grand jury.
A prime reason for the delay in producing the first round of indictments is the late surfacing of two individuals who claim they paid kickbacks to a then-councilmember in 1995 to obtain the inside track on municipal transactions. In one case, the deal allegedly involved payment of a bribe to get a land parcel controlled by the city freed up for sale to the buyer. The other allegation centers on an unspecified contract for which the seeker claims to have paid a kickback to the councilmember. Both witnesses are expected to appear before the grand jury at its next sitting on February 11.
Sting Sightem: Ross Allyn, a former aide and associate of Ben Reyes and a target of the FBI probe, was seen shopping for fruits and veggies recently at the Farmer's Market on Airline. Allyn, who's back in town after a Fundays in the Park assignment for Epic Productions in Charlotte, North Carolina, had little to say about the probe, other than to wonder aloud why the government is picking on poor Ben.
Well, you'd think he should know.
Nothing to Hide?
Assistant district attorney Chuck Noll won't say who filed the complaint, but he's investigating possible campaign violations by Adults for Legal Freedom, the not-for-profit arm of the sexually oriented business industry, in its contributions to the now-dashed City Council aspirations of gay activist Ray Hill. As with other political investigations launched by the D.A.'s office, Noll is barking up ALF's tree simply because someone complained.
"I don't know what went on, I'm just trying to find out what the hell did go on," says Noll, who was instructed by District Attorney Johnny Holmes to look into ALF's activities after a complaint was lodged. Under scrutiny are advertisements and billboards touting Hill's candidacy and labeled "paid for by ALF."
Noll says ALF apparently did not comply with state law requiring it to file a campaign report disclosing the pro-Hill expenditures, which could make the group subject to third-degree felony charges and a $20,000 fine. The D.A.'s office has subpoenaed advertising records from the Houston Press documenting one such ad on behalf of Hill, and is trying to determine whether similar ads in the Montrose Voice listed individual corporate contributors. Noll believes Hill himself has no liability in the matter.
Hill -- who finished fourth among the 16 candidates in the January 18 special election to replace John Peavy Jr. -- says he dropped about $500 in personal funds on his effort, but his campaign spent no money at all. He says he had no decision-making role in the ALF efforts on his behalf -- beyond suggesting that the word "courage" be included on the billboards.
Nelson Hensley, an attorney associated with ALF, claimed surprise upon learning the D.A. was reviewing ALF's expenditures on Hill's behalf. Hensley says ALF will file a campaign report "if ALF determines that is necessary." According to the attorney, the organization has nothing to hide, a quality ALF and the industry's dancers apparently share.
Since Noll is looking at corporate contributions to the Hill campaign, we asked him whether he had checked the latest campaign report for the Reverend James Dixon, who's in a February 18 runoff with lawyer Chris Bell for Peavy's seat. Dixon's disclosure lists a $1,000 contribution from the Bellaire Spine and Injury Center, a $50 gift from an entity called N&J Limited and $100 from HBC Travel Agency.
"You're just making work for me," cracked Noll. "See, I don't go over and read those things unless somebody tells me. But now that you've brought it to my attention, I'll have to go look at it."
While the D.A.'s folks are at it, maybe they should check Councilman Rob Todd's latest filing, wherein he reports paying $135 to "Gimme a Break" for "baby-sitting." You'd think a Council salary would be sufficient to cover childcare, wouldn't you?
Gracie's Blind Date
It looks as if Councilwoman Gracie Saenz will be the first of the flock of mayoral hopefuls to formally declare her candidacy, although ex-chief Lee Brown, Councilmembers Helen Huey and Joe Roach and independent oilman Rob Mosbacher are also considered cinches to make the race.
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