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Even by Houston's offbeat political standards, it was a very strange meeting indeed. In Internet whistle-blower Brenda Flores's humble Spring Branch-area bungalow sat an unlikely confab of political power: Congressman Chris Bell, mayoral candidate and millionaire executive William H. "Bill" White and Metro board member Janie Reyes.
They had come calling on a Sunday afternoon, the day before the municipal election filing deadline, to implore Flores not to follow through on her confessed scheme to recruit another Bill White to run for mayor. In an indication of the weirdness to follow, Flores marched each of her visitors in front of a turned-on television set, later explaining her theory that if they were wired to record the conversation it would cause static on the screen.
White had traveled the globe and met a lot of exotic folks in strange places during his tenure as Bill Clinton's energy department deputy secretary. But he had never before been frisked by a boob tube.
He went to the house on the advice of Bell, who has been friends with Flores since his Houston City Council days. Bell likens her to the iconoclastic "Dustbuster" investigator in the Primary Colors book and movie.
"Sure, she's a little off-the-wall, and prides herself in being that way," says the congressman. "But she's also been a strong supporter and good friend." During the meeting Flores returned the compliment, telling White that Bell "ranks right up there with God and the pope."
The 50-year-old Flores is an Arkansas native of Irish descent, and goes by the Spanish nickname Guera (Blondie). She's a longtime political activist and the creator of the HouSnitch Web page, a forum for disgruntled city employees that displays content ranging from confidential city documents to unfounded allegations against officials. In that capacity she became familiar with Internet databases and search services such as PublicData.com, highly useful in tracking down all the available Bill Whites in the region.
Flores told her guests that Doris Hubbard, a campaign consultant for mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner, gave her $2,700 to find the perfect Mr. Bill on the voter rolls. Hubbard is a longtime political organizer in the Acres Homes community of northwest Houston, a Turner stronghold and the site of previous investigations of alleged fraud in early voting.
Turner campaign manager Don Jones denies that his candidate knew anything about Flores's scheme. He says he believes that Hubbard provided Flores with the money for get-out-the-vote efforts rather than for dirty tricks.
"I am confident that she was not involved in this," says Jones. "If I was going to recruit a black Bill White to run, why would I go to Brenda Flores? Doris knows everybody, and I just can't see her doing that." Hubbard did not respond to a request for comment.
Flores claimed the initial plan she worked out with Hubbard was to recruit a white male to run for mayor who was not a supporter of candidate White, had the same name and did not have a criminal record. She says that even with nearly 90 Bill Whites in the Houston area, it turned out to be an impossible task.
After contacting and being rejected by numerous white Whites, Flores eventually located a disabled 49-year-old black man. When she visited her target and told him he should run for mayor, she recalls that he sat straight up in his seat and exclaimed, "I got to talk this over with Smoky" -- his disabled, older girlfriend.
Flores drove the man to his girlfriend's house and outlined the plan. It was a quick sell. The woman encouraged her boyfriend to run by saying, "Bill, you got to do this. Last time we got Sylvester to the door and a rich white man took it away from him. This time he's got another rich white man trying to take it away from him."
After the bogus Bill agreed to run, Flores says, she paid him $1,200 in cash, using the sham purchase of the straw hat he was wearing as a not very convincing cover for the inducement to file for office. She later got the would-be candidate to sign the filing papers and designate his girlfriend as campaign treasurer.
As the deadline approached, Flores began to regret her involvement and claims she told Hubbard she would not produce Bogus Bill's signed filing papers.
Flores says Hubbard called her house several times, demanding that "the papers" be turned over to the Turner campaign. A recording of one of the calls was murky, and The Insider could not confirm that it was the voice of Hubbard.
In her 90-minute meeting with White and his friends, Flores promised not to go through with the scheme. She claimed she feared for the safety of herself and her children if she did not return the money Hubbard allegedly gave her.
Three days later a White campaign emissary gave Flores a $5,000 check signed by the real Bill out of his political action committee account. It bore a notation: "for information concerning efforts to confuse voters."
Flores says she cashed the check and split the proceeds. She had a friend take one envelope with $2,600 to Turner headquarters and he delivered it to Hubbard. Flores claims she used the rest of White's money to pay off debts incurred in researching the project.