A Last Bite of '97

Our 1997 "Man of the Year," escape artist and con man extraordinaire Steven Russell ["King Con," by Steve McVicker, February 6], remains in prison -- or at least that's where he was when we went to press this week. Russell earned a measure of local notoriety by managing to escape from the Harris County Jail or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on three occasions -- the last by posing as a doctor (he transformed his white prison uniform into medical scrubs with the ink from a green felt-tip) and walking out the front gate of a Huntsville prison. Russell was recaptured, but he apparently hasn't lost his taste for the outrageous during his latest round of incarceration.

Russell was originally sent to TDCJ after pleading guilty to embezzling nearly $800,000 from a medical management company that had hired him, on the basis of his completely fabricated resume, as its chief financial officer. In July, Russell's ex-boyfriend, Phillip Morris, was convicted of participating in the theft by allowing Russell to deposit the stolen funds in their joint checking account at Texas Commerce Bank. Morris, who is also now in prison, recently filed suit against Russell and TCB vice president Chris Grice, claiming his signature was forged on the account by Russell "in concert" with Grice. Morris is asking for $4 million in damages. Grice, of course, has denied the allegations. But defendant Russell, in a court document answering Morris's lawsuit, agrees with his former lover.

That leads Grice's attorney to suspect that Russell is masterminding Morris's suit. "I think Russell may see this as an opportunity to give a deposition," says lawyer John White. "And a deposition would give him another chance to sneak out again."

Russell has boasted that all his escapes have taken place on Friday the 13th. The next one is in February.

For the time being, irrepressible rock and roll underachiever Herschel Berry -- who turned the Houston music scene on its ear in the '70s and '80s as the crazed leader of the Natives -- has abandoned his plans for a full-scale comeback. These days, he's focusing on his other passion -- the visual arts -- by framing pictures full-time at McMurtrey Gallery and fashioning old cigar boxes into interactive gadgets of offbeat aesthetic worth. As for his previous job as a Randalls Peapod man, let's just say Berry's enthusiasm for the on-line grocery industry has waned considerably since our June 5 cover story ["Never Too Old to Rock and Roll," by Hobart Rowland].

Performance-wise, the only thing on the singer/guitarist's plate is a possible slot at next year's Mardi Gras celebration in Galveston. We hope that will be occasion for Berry to sing his "Mr. Madness," a song whose opening line neatly captures the quintessence of Houston: "I rolled a seven on the dice on Howard Hughes's grave."

In the coming year, we should all be so lucky.

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