By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
"The agent told me not to tell anyone I was working with them, not my friends, not my mama, nobody," says Brown. "So, the first thing I did was run and go tell Justin. And within 48 hours, the agent called me back and asked if I could get another meeting with Johnson."
Brown says he met Johnson at a Pappadeaux's restaurant, armed with an FBI recording device made to look like a pager.
"Before walking in the restaurant," says Brown, "my hands were sweating like a son of a bitch. But I chilled out and made it through it. Johnson explained the bogus bond again and admitted that in fact Jackson had covered it up. He also explained how the university was keeping track of the three of us and everything we were doing on campus, and that if we sent an apology letter to the governor and the regents that he could get us out of the trouble that they had created against us. So, I asked Johnson if he could set up a meeting with Slade to apologize. Why? Because the FBI surely would like to be there for that meeting."
Brown says he got his meeting with Slade and several of the regents, and this time the feds outfitted him with not only a recording device but also a tiny video camera.
"Slade admitted the bond had been a problem," says Brown, "and then she starts putting on this crying act, saying, 'I don't understand why you are all bringing up all these skeletons about the campus' and 'Why are you all going to ruin your careers bringing up bad stuff that's happened at the university,' implying we are ruining our careers by bringing up the truth."
Scott Durfee, general counsel at the Harris County District Attorney's Office, confirmed the existence of recordings that Brown says he made while working for the FBI. However, Durfee said he cannot release them until at least after the conclusion of Slade's retrial next year.
Over the next few months, Brown says, he recorded additional conversations with TSU officials, but his investigation began to stall. Then one day, someone within the administration leaked state procurement card records and statements to the TSU Three.
"They showed that Slade and other people at the school had bought all this shit that just didn't look right and these people at the university were making questionable charges with state money," says Brown. "And I'm thinking, 'What are we going to do with all of this?'"
Some of those questionable charges, says Brown, included purchases at The Root of You hair salon, Toys "R" Us, the Home Shopping Network, 1-800-FLOWERS, Palais Royal department store, Garden Ridge home-decor store and the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston.
Brown says he took the procurement card statements to the FBI, but his contact there was not interested, because they were focusing on Jackson. A year later, says Brown, the FBI told him that the investigation into the bond was at a dead-end and that federal prosecutors did not have enough hard evidence to pursue it in court.
Enter the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
Brown, Hudson and Jordan first walked into the office of Assistant Harris County District Attorney Donna Goode in August 2005.
"The thing that interested us was the genuine commitment and sincerity and kind of youthful enthusiasm they showed," says Goode. "And understanding how this started with the death of Ashley Sloan, to me that was something that really tugged at your heart. And then to see what's actually happening to them as far as the interruption in their lives, the criminal charges and the suspensions, I don't know they really realized what they were up against."
Armed with the procurement card statements and feeling discouraged by the FBI, the three students decided that going to the county prosecutor's office would offer them the best chance at getting concrete results. But it was not an immediate slam-dunk as they had hoped.
"They were out there passing out flyers about Jew Don Boney, talking about ghost employees, talking about half the administration, the regents, the recreation center and the allegations about the bogus bond," says Goode, "and it's like overwhelming. There were a lot of accusations against a lot of people, but there wasn't the focus because they were not trained investigators."
Goode says that questionable purchases with state money were not in and of themselves enough to open a criminal investigation. She needed to know what was and was not allowed under Slade's contract.
"The boys were kind of going at it in all these different directions," she says, "but without subpoena power, without the ability to find out if (Slade) was running over her budget, where the money is coming from and with the way Quintin Wiggins was hiding some of the transactions, you know, you couldn't get all the information by saying, 'I want to see her procurement cards.' It took us a year and two grand jury investigations to get at it."
During the trial, Slade's attorney Mike DeGeurin went after Brown during cross-examination, questioning Brown's credibility by asking how much money he stood to gain if he won his lawsuit that the TSU Three had filed against university officials. But Brown held his ground, saying he was only ever trying to bring attention to problems he felt existed on campus. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in federal court in January.