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Later, Mull says, he noticed suspected dope dealers and prostitutes moving into vacant units. He is convinced that Berry quickly filled the complex to give the impression to potential buyers that it had full occupancy. He sold the apartments to a young woman as the situation worsened.
According to Houston police records, calls to the apartments for a variety of complaints ranging from drug dealing to prostitution to burglary surged in the last months of Berry's ownership, and peaked after the new owner took over, with an average of 28 calls a month. By comparison, police were called to the complex only four times in the first six months of this year.
A neighbor who asked not to be identified says an ad hoc committee was formed to get the complex cleaned up. "Berry had filled it with almost anyone who could pay the rent so he could show this high occupancy rate and income stream. He claimed he didn't know anything about it and it was his manager that did it."
Mull says the manager told him the exact opposite: that Berry had produced the renters and the manager had nothing to do with it.
Berry says that he had no neighborhood complaints before selling, and that he worked with residents afterward to try to clean up the property. He insists the problems did not originate with the tenants he put in the building, but rather from street crime and "walk-up traffic" in the neighborhood.
By then, Berry had begun phasing out his real estate activities to begin a new career thrust: running for City Council.
One of the neighbors to his former property says, "I thought if Berry couldn't run a 20-something-unit apartment complex, how in the world can he run the city of Houston?"
In the fall of 2000, Houston political consultant Nancy Sims was managing Eric Andell's re-election race for his then-appellate court bench. On the campaign trail, she met an eager volunteer, Michael Berry, who began tagging along with Andell. He was flattered by Berry's attention, but the wary Sims saw something else.
"He was a very ambitious young man anxious to meet powerful people," remembers Sims. "He mostly accompanied Eric everywhere he could so that he could meet his friends."
Her next encounter with Berry was secondhand. He'd began preparing his run for City Council. Sims heard from a Houston Chronicle reporter that Berry had said he'd hired Sims as a political consultant.
Sims had not even submitted a proposal to his campaign, much less talked to him about it. "When I was in that business I did not agree to work for a candidate until we had done an interview with him."
Still, the reports kept coming from people who had talked to Berry and were told Sims was representing him. "If it was convenient for him, he would tell people that," says Sims, who suspects Berry dropped other consultants' names as well. "If he thought someone's name would help him with a certain person, he would use it."
When Berry eventually called, she told him she was concerned about his using her name. Sims says they agreed to continue the discussion when she returned from a holiday trip.
Sims said she heard nothing from Berry for three weeks. Then she received a message on her voice mail from the candidate explaining that he could not hire her "because you're pregnant, and you cannot give me the attention I deserve because of that." Sims was six months pregnant at the time.
"If there were other reasons, he did not tell me," Sims says. "He never met or spoke with me." Sims considers the taped message inappropriate and sexist.
"If I said that, that's not the appropriate term or not the appropriate answer," Berry said at the time when the Houston Press Insider column carried an item on the dispute. "That's not what I intended to convey, but I don't believe I said that." According to Berry, he decided not to hire Sims because of her reputation as a controlling campaign manager.
"I had done some background research and people had told me, 'You and Nancy will clash,' " Berry says. "Nancy is a very hands-on candidate. She's going to tell you what tie to wear, what to wear, and what to say and not to say."
Sylvester Turner, a mayoral opponent, also says Berry used him on his climb up the political ladder. Turner says he supported Berry in return for Berry's promises to help Turner in a future run for mayor -- and that Berry has obviously reneged on that pledge.
Turner says he antagonized some Democrats during the council race with his support of Berry, but, he adds, "I saw a young man who, even though he was a Republican, I thought it was an opportunity for our community in a sense to kind of build some bridges."
The state rep now says, "The only advice I would offer to anybody who is now supporting him or gets on his bandwagon is 'Get it in writing!' "
According to Berry, Turner called him and threatened that "if you stay in this race, I will destroy you."
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