By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Texas Southern University sophomore Ashley Sloan was talking with friends in the parking lot of a university-owned apartment complex after a late-night party when suddenly a fight that had begun inside the bash erupted onto the streets in a blaze of gunfire. While many of Sloan's friends scrambled to take cover behind a parked car, a bullet tore into Sloan's head, killing her.
It was early December 2004, and amid a raucous outcry of accusations that TSU was not providing adequate security, students Oliver Brown, William Hudson and Justin Jordan took it upon themselves to begin patrolling campus looking for places where the school could beef up its safety measures.
"It was crazy and things were in bad shape," says Hudson. "We had a dead student on campus, there were areas of campus with no or very poor lighting and we had emergency phones that were inoperable. I took a sign off one of the call boxes that said, 'Attention, these emergency phones are non-functioning at the moment. If you have an emergency or need immediate assistance, please call 713-313-7000,' the number for campus safety. Right, so in an emergency you're supposed to call the police from the cell phone you don't have on you."
Hudson, Brown and Jordan were on their nightly patrol when Hudson mentioned an "ol' rusty-ass dump truck" sitting inside a chain-link-fenced parking lot next to the school's General Services Building. An Air Force veteran, Brown had driven dump trucks during his three years of service, so this piqued his interest. They strolled over to the lot and walked into the unlocked section where the truck sat. At 6'3" inches tall, Brown could easily see into the front seat.
"At first," says Brown, "all I saw was this mess of computer paper, so I get excited because one of the issues I'd been fighting on campus was the lack of computer paper. So I was like, 'Why can't we just reuse the back of this used paper so students can print out their bullshit and rough drafts and save the new paper for term papers and things like that?'"
The truck's door was unlocked, so Brown opened it and snagged the reams of dot-matrix paper from inside. The three students hovered over their find and began to read.
"As soon as we pulled it out," says Brown, "we knew we had found something big."
In fact, what they found that night would start them on a three-year investigation of university officials and policies that ultimately led to the criminal prosecution of ousted former TSU President Priscilla Slade this past fall.
Someone had dumped university payroll records inside the truck, complete with names, university ID numbers that consisted of employees' social security numbers, and salaries. The students took the records back to Hudson's apartment and began poring over the documents.
The three students cross-checked the payroll records with a copy of the school's budget they found in the campus library. A number of people listed as being paid did not appear in the budget, including a former library worker who they knew had not been on campus in months, Brown says.
In addition, Hudson, who worked for the university, says that when he went to pick up his paycheck he noticed that the daughter of Senior Vice-President Gayla Thomas was getting a check, despite the fact he did not think she was working for TSU at the time. (VP Thomas denies the allegations, saying her daughter had worked at TSU during the summer but was not receiving paychecks past the first week in September, just as her daughter's employment was ending.)
"We put two and two together and knew something was not right," says Brown. "But at that point, we had no idea how wrong things at the university really were."
For Brown, Hudson and Jordan, finding the payroll records catapulted them into a world of espionage and paranoia, and a war against the highest-ranking officials at the university. The three young men claim that during the next three years, administrators and regents tried to bribe and intimidate them, and that the university retaliated against them, causing Hudson's father to lose his job at the school.
Brown, Hudson and Jordan were all either suspended from school or placed on probation, and two of them were brought up on criminal charges, fingerprinted and arrested, only to have the charges quickly dismissed. Their grades plummeted and fellow students and administrators turned on them, calling the boys everything from liars to traitors to both their university and their race.
In 2005, Brown, Hudson and Jordan filed a lawsuit in federal court against TSU's board of regents, Slade, former regent J. Paul Johnson and five other university employees, most of whom are still at TSU, alleging numerous acts of retaliation. Due to the pending lawsuit, the majority of defendants contacted by the Houston Press either declined to comment or did not return phone calls.
Throughout all of this, Brown, Hudson and Jordan persevered. Yes, at times they enjoyed the limelight and even reveled in the thrill of the hunt, but for the most part, they say they were following their consciences and doing what they felt was best for TSU. Brown says he served as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation along the way, and uncovered what he believes is evidence that former TSU regent and current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson was involved along with other former regents in the cover-up of a bogus performance bond secured to insure the construction of a student building.
(The Press attempted to contact Jackson at HUD and was directed to his media relations staff. Jackson's public affairs officer, Jerry Brown, in Washington, D.C., said Jackson had no comment on the allegations concerning the bond.)
Later, the three students, referred to by the media as the "TSU Three," took what they had collected to the Harris County District Attorney's Office. And despite what has been hinted at by the media, it was the TSU Three, not school officials, who prosecutors say initially provided them with the information needed to jumpstart an investigation.
Ultimately, Slade was indicted for allegedly spending more than $500,000 of university money on a lavish personal lifestyle. Among other items, prosecutors accuse Slade of purchasing a $9,000 sleigh bed, an almost $5,000 mattress set and $4,000 in silk bedding, a $50,000 security system with a panic room inside her million-dollar home in Memorial Park, an approximately $100,000 bar tab at Scott Gertner's Skybar and Grille, spa treatments, and a 25-place dinner set from Neiman Marcus worth nearly $40,000.
A jury convicted former TSU chief financial officer Quintin Wiggins on the charge of misapplication of fiduciary property over $200,000, sentencing him in May to ten years in prison, and a grand jury indicted former TSU vice-president Bruce Wilson on the charge of misapplication of fiduciary property between $100,000 and $200,000. Wilson is awaiting his trial.
If this was a movie and the TSU Three had their way, Slade and other university officials would be behind bars right now. But this is not a movie.
In October, a Harris County judge granted a mistrial in the case against Slade after jurors could not reach a verdict. Slade's defense attorney Mike DeGeurin argued that all of Slade's spending was aimed at improving the status of TSU and luring donors. Prosecutors say they will retry the case in March.
"I've been living this for the past three years," says Brown, "and I'm bursting. People need to know everything we've been through to get to this point."
Oliver Brown is an imposing guy, well-built, dark-eyed, with tall, arching shoulders that give him a cocky sort of look. His voice is loud and deep; when he talks, it's rapid-fire and in-your-face. He has the nervous energy of a Red Bull addict. Raised in Houston, Brown at 28 is the oldest of the TSU Three and was a senior running for Student Government Association president in the fall of 2004 when the trio of students all came together.
By contrast, Justin Jordan of Midland is the baby of the group, only a freshman when he befriended Brown that year. He is quiet, moves slowly, purposefully, and has a Texas drawl. At the time Sloan was killed, Jordan was president of the freshman class and active in the Republican Party. Brown had hired Jordan to help run Brown's campaign for student president.
Hudson, from Houston and a conservative at heart, already knew Brown from the university debate team. Hudson is almost smack in the middle between his friends in both age and demeanor. A member of Who's Who Among American High School Students, Hudson's nickname at Jersey Village High School was "Kool-Aid," say his parents, because of his constant wide-open smile, yet he can be loud and as righteous-sounding as any sweaty-browed Sunday preacher.
All three were children of the Priscilla Slade era at TSU; she was elevated to president of the university in 1999 after having been dean of the business school. Slade took over a university that was in poor financial shape. In 1989, there was talk in the state legislature of appointing a czar to oversee the operation of TSU, and in 1997 the state auditor's office began monitoring the school. However, the audit reports became progressively better in the initial years of Slade's presidency. Among other accomplishments, Slade is credited with helping to streamline the financial aid process, which dramatically increased student enrollment to an all-time high of 11,635 in 2004 (versus this fall's enrollment of 9,544), and with launching a construction blitz on campus.
"It is truly my opinion," says a former university regent who would only comment on condition of anonymity, "that before Dr. Slade, the university was not a good place. But after Priscilla came on, she kind of took it to the next level. She raised money and put in an image of professionalism. She made some truly tangible improvements in reference to enrollment and customer service."
As for the numerous new buildings Slade is credited with delivering on campus, says the regent, "Isn't timing everything? She was there when it took place. And somebody had to get the credit."
Brown, Hudson and Jordan all refer to Slade's early days as president as "the smoke and mirror years." And despite Hudson's nickname, they were not drinking the Kool-Aid.
Hudson says they were concerned with many problems around campus, particularly "the fact the campus looked run down and terrible, that there was a dead student on campus and security was lacking and that the payroll records showed something was not right with the way the school was doing business." When the three students returned to campus in January 2005 following winter break, they decided to hold Slade responsible. With Brown running for student government president and Jordan and Hudson by his side, they began circulating flyers around campus calling for Slade's resignation, and Jordan sent a letter to the Student Government Association explaining why they were asking for Slade's head.
Shortly after, says Brown, Slade requested a meeting with Jordan.
"Now, why would you call an 18-year-old kid into your office just for putting out a flyer asking for your resignation?" says Brown. "What is she worried about? To me, this was another sign that something was not right."
Hudson and Brown were not about to let Jordan face the president all by himself, so they accompanied their friend to the meeting with Slade.
"So," says Brown, "we are sitting in her office and she asks, 'Why do you want me to resign?'
"'Because you are not doing a good job,' Justin replied."
"'All these buildings being built, you don't call that doing a good job,' asked Dr. Slade."
"'No,' said Justin."
"'What can I do in order to make things better?'"
"And all Justin says is, 'Resign and leave,'" Brown recounts.
"At that point, I just looked at Justin and thought, 'Man, those are big balls.' I was even scared for him at that point. I was thinking, 'You are about to get slapped in here.' I started panicking and I was like, 'Tell her what needs to be done on campus.' And Justin goes, 'Nah, resign and leave, that's what you can do.' And he held his ground. Then he said, 'Thank you for your time,' got up out of his chair and walked out."
Two days later, Brown, Hudson and Jordan began a petition drive asking for Slade to step down. The media picked up on it and spread the news throughout Houston and the rest of the country.
Divergent views on the proposition to oust Slade began to polarize the campus, and the TSU Three were about to run into their first real test of character and moral fortitude.
"Some students feel they were wrong for what they did and some feel they did the correct thing," says current Student Government Association President Jasmine Pope. "I have heard some students say they should have tried to handle it a little different and that these things could've been handled in-house. But opinions differ greatly."
Greg Taylor, who was student president at the time of the petition, has no love for the TSU Three.
"These guys are just kind of on their own and do what they want to do and I believe a lot of it is just for attention," he says. "They did what they do, which is finding dirt on people and looking for the negatives instead of the positives. And every now and then they get lucky, I guess."
Says former regent J. Paul Johnson, "What I really wanted them to see more than anything was that the university is bigger than all of us. Because, when they graduate, the degree that they're going to graduate with is the same degree that has now been kind of blemished due to all of this."
Brown, Hudson and Jordan suddenly found themselves on the defensive for the first time. Hudson says there is a kind of systemic attitude at TSU that it is not acceptable to call into question the acts and decisions of fellow African-Americans.
"I come from a multicultural background," says Hudson, "and I had a culture shock of what it meant to be black when I came to TSU. We were called traitors to our race and people said we were just out trying to make a name for ourselves instead of seeing that we were just trying to do the right thing. We had classmates that we thought were our friends acting like they didn't even know us, and it really hurt. We would go out somewhere and other blacks looked at us like we were the scum of the earth.
"A member of the Texas House of Representatives told me we were setting black people back. And all we were doing was what was morally, ethically and justifiably right. We were just trying to set the record straight for taxpayers across the state and for parents who were paying to send their children to college. We were just trying to say, 'Look, there's chaos and tyranny at TSU. And crime has no color.'"
The night before TSU Day at the State Legislature in February 2005, when university and state officials met in Austin to discuss the school, Hudson and Jordan stayed up all night at Hudson's parents' home secretly putting together handmade photocopied booklets describing the problems they believed existed at the university. They say they had been invited to attend the event by State Representative Terri Hodge, and planned on passing out the pamphlets.
During one of the meetings, say Hudson and Jordan, police escorted them from the conference room for causing an uproar, but the harsh effects of their "troublemaking" were not felt until the following day.
Hudson's father, Glenn, was employed at TSU as an academic adviser, and was also in Austin on TSU Day when he saw his son at the event. Glenn Hudson says he was socializing with several members of the university's administration when they saw the younger Hudson approach his father to say hello.
"Once they saw Will was my son," says Glenn Hudson, "they kind of distanced themselves from me. I did not know William was doing any of this stuff until I saw him in Austin."
The next day back at TSU, Glenn Hudson says his boss called him aside after work and asked the father to write a letter to Slade apologizing for his son's behavior for stirring up problems on campus.
"I was told my job was contingent on writing this letter of apology," says Glenn Hudson. "So, the next day I gave them my letter of resignation because I was not going to give William over to them. I can always find another job, but this is my son forever and I would not give William up."
For the TSU Three, this was only the start of their troubles.
"At the very beginning, when we first found the payroll papers and realized where they were taking us," says William Hudson, "we all got on the phone together. Oliver was at home getting ready to go to sleep, I was at home and Justin was driving on the freeway. And Oliver said, 'Well, you know what we're up against, and a criminal is a criminal and there's no telling what they're capable of doing. This could ruin our college record, land us in jail or worse. Are you willing to die and stand up for what you believe in?' And we all said, 'Yes.'"
In continuing their crusade, Hudson and Jordan began passing out flyers in late February 2005 questioning the university's employment of Jew Don Boney Jr. Boney was serving as associate director of the Mickey Leland Center on World Hunger and Peace, and is a former Houston city councilmember, mayor pro-tem and human rights activist.
The four-page flyer accused TSU of paying Boney $75,000 a year despite the fact that he does not have a college degree, a seemingly harmless offense given Boney's extensive record of service. The flyer also included a copy of Boney's payroll record, displaying his payroll identification number made up in part of his social security number, and an internal university document highlighting Boney's name and ID number, which Boney claimed was the same as his social security number. When contacted by the Press, Boney declined to comment.
On March 2, 2005, arrest warrants were issued for Hudson and Jordan in Harris County on the charge of fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, based on the strength of a statement of probable cause signed by TSU campus police.
As soon as the warrants were issued, a campus police officer who was friends with Glenn Hudson called the father to let him know his son was a wanted man. Glenn Hudson says he immediately got hold of a bail bondsman and before the students were ever taken into custody, posted their bond. That night, Hudson and Jordan walked into the county jail, were fingerprinted, booked and released on bond. The very next morning, State District Court Judge Don Stricklin dismissed the charges as unfounded.
"When they tried to put us in jail," says Jordan, "that was the most traumatic moment of all because that let me know this was bigger than we thought and they were really coming after us."
It didn't end there.
Brown says that the university placed him on probation after an incident in which then-student government president Greg Taylor accused Brown of verbally threatening him, charges Brown still denies. (Taylor declined to comment to the Press on the incident.) Jordan says he was also put on probation, charged with intentional physical or mental harm and forgery, stemming from the Boney flyers. Jordan says he was forced to resign as freshman class president and Brown says he was barred from running for school president. In the end, Jordan was allowed to appeal his sentence and did so, successfully, while Brown says he was prohibited from appealing and was required to have campus police escort him to and from classes.
Meanwhile, Hudson had a run-in with an administrator that months later resulted in the university suspending him for a year. According to documents filed on behalf of the university in the three students' lawsuit, Hudson was at a meeting with Wiggins when Hudson became angry and began yelling, prompting Wiggins to call campus police and have Hudson removed. Hudson does not deny this, but says he was there trying to voice what he felt were valid concerns over a faculty member's salary and Wiggins was refusing to answer. As a result, the university charged Hudson with insubordination, campus disturbance and intentional mental or physical harm. Suspended from school, Hudson says he was no longer allowed on campus without a police escort.
In addition, says Glenn Hudson, the university wanted the family to repay the financial aid his son had been lent before they would release his transcript, keeping him from taking classes at another college during his suspension.
"They held his transcript hostage until I finally paid them," says Glenn Hudson. His son did eventually take classes at Houston Community College during his suspension.
William Hudson says he had been on schedule to graduate at the end of the summer of 2005 in the same class as his mother, Sharon. That family dream was no longer a reality; now they just prayed Hudson would be allowed to attend his mother's big day.
"When William finally was granted permission to come," says Sharon Hudson, "there were police officers standing in front of him, and it was so obvious they were not situated around other families like that. And everybody was staring. When I finally walked across the stage to get my diploma, they escorted him right out and would not let him stay for the rest of the ceremony. And afterwards, when we all wanted to take pictures together, we couldn't because William had to stand across the street off university property, just waiting for us all by himself. It just broke my heart."
Hudson and Jordan's arrests were what Jordan calls "just the wake-up call we needed to start getting smart." The trumped-up criminal charges scared the three students, and they knew they had to get what they felt was really happening at the university on the record. So, Brown and Jordan started tape-recording their phone conversations with TSU officials.
The first phone call they recorded was between Jordan and then-regent Johnson. The TSU Three had heard rumors that the newly built Student Recreation Center's foundation was cracked and that nothing was being done to fix it because the performance bond purchased by the construction company in 2000 was no good. Jordan's conversation with Johnson confirmed the rumor, and in the students' minds, set off alarms that former chairman of the Board of Regents and current Secretary of HUD Alphonso Jackson, along with other regents and administrators, was covering it up.
According to the tape obtained by the Press, Johnson says, "I discovered the damn recreation center was crumbling. I walked over there one day and I am like, what in the hell? And what did they do, Justin? They tried to cover that shit up."
Later on in the tape, Johnson says, "And you know, but see, when Alphonso was the chairman, shit, he was the chairman. Man, please, you don't know the half of it. I got cussed out over the bogus bond."
The Student Recreation Center was built by KAI Construction out of St. Louis. According to the bond paperwork filed with the university, KAI's president, Michael Kennedy, secured a $10,378,022 performance bond in 2000 from National Assurance Guaranty Group Inc. out of Las Vegas. However, according to both the Nevada Division of Insurance and the Texas Department of Insurance, the bond company has never been licensed to sell insurance in either state.
When asked about the bond, TSU spokesman Terrence Jackson deferred to the Texas Attorney General. Attorney General spokesman Tom Kelly says that the state is monitoring the situation but that outside counsel is leading the effort to resolve the issue. So far, TSU's board of regents has decided not to file a lawsuit against KAI, says Kelly. The law firm Kelly says is handling the case, Andrews Myers Coulter, did not return the Press's phone calls.
In October, federal agents began an investigation of Jackson in connection with his allegedly granting a friend from South Carolina a no-bid contract for a construction project in New Orleans.
Michael Kennedy did not return the Press's phone calls.
During the tape-recorded conversation between Johnson and Jordan, Johnson tells the student, "I can help you at Texas Tech. And, umm, yeah man, if you quiet down on campus, all this shit will blow away. Keep your head in the game, boy."
Jordan says Johnson wanted Jordan to make peace between the university and the TSU Three.
Johnson "offered me a study-abroad trip to Rome funded by Dr. Slade's office, or he said he knew board members at Texas Tech and that they were trying to recruit minorities and he could help me out," says Jordan. "He even told me he'd talked to top Republicans in the state and they wanted me to leave Dr. Slade and everyone at TSU alone. And he made reference to Bush 41 as one of them. I thought it was crazy and would never have accepted."
Still, Jordan says he believes Johnson is one of the good guys.
"He is very genuine and I believe that he wants to do the right thing," says Jordan. "But I think he made a lot of bad decisions when it came to this whole ordeal."
Johnson says he is limited as to what he can say due to the TSU Three's lawsuit.
"I believed that the young men needed to be heard," he says, "and I took the opportunity to talk to them. Now, when they tape-recorded me, I really took issue. At that point, I really didn't know if I could trust them. I was trying to be forthright and honest with them, but it didn't stop me from caring about the young men."
The day after Jordan made the tape of Johnson, Brown says he took a copy of it to the FBI. He says he told agents about his suspicions, and the next thing Brown knew, he was acting as an informant. FBI spokeswoman Patricia Villafranca says she can neither confirm nor deny Brown's claim.
"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.
It wasn't until prosecutors found out, however, that Slade had told former regent Belinda Griffin in January 2006 that the university was buying Slade furniture for her million-dollar home in Memorial Park that they began to sink their teeth into the case.
The story reported by the media was that Griffin dropped by Slade's home to pick up a pair of handbags and a pearl necklace that Slade had purchased during a trip to China. The necklace was a gift, but Griffin had promised to pay Slade for the two bags. It was during this visit, Griffin later testified in court, that Slade told her that TSU had purchased some of the furniture in Slade's home. Concerned, Griffin called fellow regent J. Paul Johnson and the two then asked the university's internal auditor to investigate.
Brown, Hudson and Jordan say most of this is true, but that the board intended to keep it all in-house and out of public view. They say it was actually they who alerted prosecutors, enabling Goode to launch a grand jury investigation that eventually resulted with Slade's indictment.
"How did Slade truly get busted?" says Brown. "Well, there was a regent who was a supporter of ours and was feeding us information. That regent told us about the conversation Griffin had with Slade and about the emergency meeting the board called together one night to discuss it. We then told the DA, and the media never would have known if guess who hadn't of called them. That's right, it was us. And when all those TV cameras showed up at the emergency board meeting, the board said they were launching their own investigation, and that's how the board got portrayed in a positive light."
Goode is rather tight-lipped on this point, but wants to make sure the TSU Three get their due credit.
"Well," she says, "let's just say I can confirm what the boys said. We received a tip that Belinda Griffin had concerns that there were likely unauthorized purchases made. And that got us going."
After nearly two months of hearing testimony in the Slade case, jury members took the better part of five straight days of deadlocked deliberations before State District Court Judge Brock Thomas let them off the hook and declared a hung jury, granting Slade a mistrial the second week of October.
And while Slade and her friends huddled together in the courtroom celebrating and praying aloud, William Hudson sat silently, alone, slumped over on the same hardwood bench he'd been occupying for weeks on end. The first thing he did was text message his friends Brown and Jordan what had happened. Then, he smiled.
"Well, it's better than saying her ass is not guilty," he laughed. "Good things come to those who wait."
Goode and her team of prosecutors are already preparing to retry Slade in March. It is rumored that Wiggins and Wilson may cut deals in exchange for their testimony against Slade.
"If they do," says Jordan, "it will be a much tougher hill for Slade to climb. And I am looking forward to that."
Brown, Hudson and Jordan are also looking ahead toward the next phase of their lives.
"I remember at one point," says Hudson's mother, Sharon, "William came home late at night in the middle of all this, all the harassment at school from the kids and administration, and just sat down and said, 'Mama, why?' And then he just broke down crying. And Glenn just sat there holding him. He went from being such a happy-go-lucky guy and really changed into this angry, depressed, frustrated and quick-tempered person."
Today, the old William Hudson has reemerged. He graduated from TSU in December 2006 and is working at Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation Center in the insurance department. Hudson is also back in school, earning his Master's degree in public health at Benedictine University, taking online classes at Cornell University to get a Business Analysis certificate and studying for the LSAT. Hudson hopes to one day be general counsel for a health care company. He says his grades plummeted before his suspension and his transcript is riddled with withdrawals and yes, because of this he's given up his dream of going to the ultracompetitive Naval Medical School. But he is still optimistic and feels back on track.
Oliver Brown is living his dream of being an airplane pilot, flying for Express Jet Airlines, but has yet to graduate college. He still has about a semester to go to earn his degree in aviation, but says he will only complete it at TSU, "once the program is functioning properly." Possibly still riding the high of working with the FBI and the district attorney, his latest project is getting the aviation department to where he feels it is up to snuff. Brown recently held a meeting with the department's faculty, calling for one professor's resignation.
"To be honest, this shit really gets my rocks off," he said leaving the meeting.
Jordan is planning to graduate from TSU in December 2008 with a degree in public affairs. As state chair of the College Republican National Committee, he is thinking about a life in politics. Once school is over, he wants to remain in Houston and work his way up from the bottom, from county to state and maybe one day a nationally elected position.
There is still a question as to what their legacy at TSU will be. Perhaps it will be tied directly to the fate of Slade. And in both cases, the verdict is still not in.
"The only thing I would want people to remember me for at TSU," says Jordan, "is that we wanted to do the right thing by the university. And I just hope people understand that nobody was out to ruin Dr. Slade. She did a pretty good job of doing that herself."
Newly appointed Chairman of the Board of Regents Glenn Lewis wants to look forward, not back. But he recognizes the role the TSU Three have played.
"They seem like fine young men," he says, "and they seem concerned about the university and genuinely want it to perform in the best possible way. We think Texas Southern University has a brighter future than it has a past."
Brown, Hudson and Jordan are already gearing up for the next round. And if Slade's second trial is moved from Harris County to another part of the state, they are ready to wait it out in a motel somewhere for as long as it takes.
"I would rather have Oliver Brown and William Hudson in my corner than anyone else because they showed me what true friendship is," says Jordan. "We all stood together when the heat was turned extremely high, from the time we first found those payroll records in that rusty old dump truck, and we will get through this next trial together as well."