Who's Behind Helena Brown?

Some say the councilwoman known for her diatribes is influenced by senior adviser William Park, who last year was banned from the investments industry.

Religiosity is an essential aspect of the William Park ethos. He grew up in and out of Mexico, following his father, a pastor, on missionary work. "He speaks better Spanish than he does English," Brown said, finishing half of her pesto-and-mozzarella panino. Park attends weekly Bible study classes at his Baptist church, and signs his e-mails with a litany of religious passages.

In all, he strikes one as a pious, stand-up guy, someone who can lecture exhaustively on the necessities of integrity, character and honesty in our daily interactions. He seems like you can trust him. Believe him. Maybe even, if the setting were right, give him hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Of the many alleged financial victims — we counted 17 spanning numerous dealings — dotting Park's past, the story of a woman named Fran Combe, 72, of Pasadena, California, seems emblematic. She first met William Park in 2006 in Los Angeles. She and her husband, George, wanted to alter their insurance plan with a company called Waddell & Reid, and Park was sent out to help.

Before Helena Brown got into office, she posted numerous rants commingling Catholic dogmas with conservative doctrine to a private Google Group called "Friends of Freedom." There is an "infiltration of commies in the church who like to teach liberation 'theology,' open borders, and social 'justice' all against what is true Catholic teaching," she wrote January 3, 2011. "It makes me sick!"
Photo by Chris Curry
Before Helena Brown got into office, she posted numerous rants commingling Catholic dogmas with conservative doctrine to a private Google Group called "Friends of Freedom." There is an "infiltration of commies in the church who like to teach liberation 'theology,' open borders, and social 'justice' all against what is true Catholic teaching," she wrote January 3, 2011. "It makes me sick!"
Houston City Council meetings on Tuesdays begin at 1:30 p.m., but Council Member Helena Brown usually doesn't show up until around 2 p.m., often one of the last people to take her seat in the chambers.
Photo by Chris Curry
Houston City Council meetings on Tuesdays begin at 1:30 p.m., but Council Member Helena Brown usually doesn't show up until around 2 p.m., often one of the last people to take her seat in the chambers.

Park rolled up to her house in a red truck and talked with the Combes for a long while. During the conversation, Park smiled, displayed a quick intellect and spoke about his family. He also asked if the Combes, who were retired, were interested in investing in a company that would make them a lot of money. The company, called Provident Royalties, was involved in oil and shale exploration near Park's home in Texas and he informed Fran that people all over the nation who invested with him were bringing in incredible returns — 18 percent monthly.

"He said, 'My mother's a retired teacher and has limited funds and I put her in this,'" Combe recalled Park saying. "So I really believed him." She signed a check for $25,000 over to Park's company, United Equity Securities. He was just so likable and smart, and seemed to know everything about investments, Combe said. They couldn't help it.

And just as Park predicted, the returns were indeed incredible. Another check for $4,500 materialized every month in her mailbox. Like magic. Over time, as the retired couple came to trust Park, a change in their relationship occurred. He wasn't Mr. Park, the investment broker; he was William, a friend.

Combe and her husband, George, got a call from Park nearly every month, saying he was in Los Angeles. He'd ask how they were and whether they wanted to join him and his girlfriend, Sonie Kim, for lunch or dinner downtown. Or he'd ask George if he wanted to go golfing. During these occasions, Park would be expansive, pontificating on conservative politics, and recommend books the couple should read. Sometimes, he'd talk about his faith.

But Fran's husband had some concerns. The money just seemed too easy, he said.

"What are you worried about?" Park told him. "Relax and enjoy it. This is a very solid investment. This is what the oil and gas industry is all about — it's paying out." So Fran and George Combe did exactly that, giving him another $75,000 to drop into Provident Royalties. And then they pumped an additional $125,000 into other funds he recommended.

As the years passed, certain things about Park surfaced that did seem strange, however, Combe said. "He's just a rabid, rabid Republican. In 2008, William ran a marathon in Houston, wearing a shirt that was derogatory toward Obama. William hated him. Hated Obama." She added: "People were really disturbed."

Not long after, the notices started arriving. One of the companies the Combes had invested in had gone bankrupt. In one day, the retired couple lost $70,000. Fran Combe called Park.

"Speak to us in plain English!" she remembers yelling at him. "Don't give us this investor jargon. What happened?"

"Don't worry," he said. "I think we can salvage this."

But, of course, they couldn't. That was the last time the Combes ever heard from Park — he just "evaporated." But the notices didn't. They kept coming in the mail, more letters, more losses. Next it was Provident Royalties, which wasn't a shale and oil investor but a nationwide, $485 million Ponzi scheme involving 61 broker-dealers and thousands of unwitting investors. Investors in Provident whose accounts were handled by United Equity Securities lost more than $660,000, according to court files. At the same time, United had amassed $173,200 in commissions.

Gary Skinner, 63, of Oldsmar, Florida, who got taken for $195,000 by Park's company, said: "I'm retired. This hurt big-time." Even Park's girlfriend, Sonie Kim, lost $35,000 to Park, according to a lawsuit she filed against him and won.

Park's legal trouble hit a crescendo in late April 2011 when the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority barred him from the brokerage industry. By that time, United Equity Securities had already disappeared.

While all of this was transpiring, Park, incredibly enough, opened another company, named Park Integrity Productions, and started making movies. Traumatically awful movies. Films like Scouts Honor, which follows fallen Saturday Night Live actor Chris Kattan as his character tries to win a competition in a scout camp. It earned some truly hilarious customer reviews: "(Shaking my head.) It's a big stinking pile of crap. I might have cracked a smile once in a while thinking, OMG, WTH were the producers thinking?!?"

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53 comments
scottsdalebubbe
scottsdalebubbe

What Helena Brown is proposing in her attempts to transfer services from the City to the County or to private industry is just an expense transfer to another authority that would have to tax both County and City residents in order to provide the additional services.  Is Brown even aware that when municipal services become privatized, they also become more expensive?  Of course not, because someone who benefits financially by the privatization is contributing $ to her campaign or $ to her personally.

 

I speculate that Brown is 1/2 hour late to Council meetings because she can't get away any earlier from her receptionist job.

jack.hughes
jack.hughes

How many other Tea Party puppets -- like this woman, who seems to be operated by remote control -- are currently holding elected office?

Mia_011
Mia_011

this lady is crazy yall seriously she doesnt take showers for weeks and yall trust her! she doesnt even take care of herself much less help yall take care yall selves....

Glenn
Glenn

If you applaud Helena Brown they you are stupid.

Wiley6573
Wiley6573

"The bankers and CEOs who go clamoring for government bailouts are the poster children for the fraud that is so-called "small government conservatism"/libertarianism" wow...you're either really misinformed or don't understand free market capitalism. When banks and corporations go to the government to bail them out that's called "crony capitalism". In the free market, there is no such thing as "too big to fail". And I can assure you that libertarians do NOT support corporate bailouts or corporations being in bed with government.

Wiley6573
Wiley6573

Alex Jones? LOL!! That guy is a putz and makes the rest of the freedom movement look bad. And I have compassion for my fellow man. I volunteer, I give to charities and I give to those less fortunate because I believe it's the right thing to do. But lazy people such as yourself who rely on government to do it through force because you can't be bothered are the selfish ones.

Wiley6573
Wiley6573

Well, when they come to take your shit (through force) we'll see how you feel about "social justice". Governments and the United Nations will not bring about social justice. They will bring about an elite class and a slave class. Guess which one you'll be in??

Wiley6573
Wiley6573

I applaud Helena Brown for bringing back fiscal reponsibility to local government. And Agenda 21 is very real. I may not agree with her religious views, but everything else is spot on. Problem is, you morons sit there in front of your televisions and read this garbage and think she is the one who is nuts. Goes to show how brainwashed this country has become. When George Bush Sr.(he signed this agreement back in 1992) spoke of the "New World Order"...this is what he was talking about. Say goodbye to your freedom and this country's sovereignty if this is ever implemented. http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/agenda21/english/Agenda21.pdf

Maxatomic
Maxatomic

I'd only read one of the Chron's articles (about altering time cards), but have read everything here, and at the link you provided. The reporting has been pretty free of calling her nuts, just describes what she does. Inacuracies should be pointed out. The primary innacuracy pointed out here concerns the reporter noting a "crucifix" (idolatry) instead of a "cross" on Park's ring. Hell, the reporter may have been right, and Park's finger has fallen off by now. Watch the June 20th council meeting. She intoduces an amendment defaulting on pensions. She introduces an amendment to unilaterally have the county pick up law enforcement and park maintenance. She assumes, when she cites savings, that the county, or some charitable persons, will pick up all expenses. She assumes that privatization means that the city no longer pays for things. Oh, and after stiffing retired firefighters, she wants to increase the over 65 / disabled exemption, but she (and for that matter, no one else) is quite sure what that would cost. These are not presented as topics of conversation, they are presented actionable items. She may not be crazy, but she is no fiscal conservative. She is a populist politician with a pack of lemmings following her.

Pen
Pen

Great reporting, it must have been hard getting all those facts. I am grateful I don't live in A. Hopefully more reporting will oust this nutcase.

Mam
Mam

There's a war on christianity, haven't you heard?

Smedley
Smedley

No no... I think Fab meant, "MEET", you know...? As in the the biblical "meet".

Discourse =/= Crazytalk
Discourse =/= Crazytalk

I'm sorry. You lost me. Do you call what you did there "discourse?" Because it sounded like a completely random collection of meaningless religious cliches that have nothing to do with what was being discussed.

MGD
MGD

Why? She would not have one intelligent thing to say. As a long time involved resident of District A, never heard of her in the community until she ran at the urges of Toni Lawrence (who at the time was upset with Ms. Stardig). Too many people have too many negative things to say about her. I have met her several times and she cannot answer any direct question about ordinances, amendments or proposals before City Council because she does not know any of the issues. I can't wait until her term is up - hope District A survives this very disturbed lady until then.

Thenonymous
Thenonymous

Oh, Agenda 21 exists. It exists in the same way that Talk Like A Pirate Day exists. I know that pirates can be scary. However, reasonably informed and rational people consider both "Agenda 21" and "Talk Like A Pirate Day" to pose exactly the same amount of threat to American sovereignty.

The Pedant of Whackjobs
The Pedant of Whackjobs

In the way you're using it, the word, "Gov't," is properly spelled "Gub'mint." You're welcome, Comrade.

Patrick225
Patrick225

Ms. Omberg, do you have any particular inaccuracies in the story that you would like point out? Or is this a generalized swipe at the story with a non-specific criticism that implies a greater knowledge of the situation than you actually possess?

Patrick225
Patrick225

Is it your opinion that the City of Houston should turn over the maintenance and operation of the city parks to Harris County which in the opinion of Ms. Brown would no doubt gladly take over the associated expenses for free since she considers the entire budget as being saved? Is that the kind of staight shooting fiscal conservatism that completely ignores reality you can get behind, Doc?

Patrick225
Patrick225

As a reader of the story, I did not get that the author was suggesting that Ms. Brown was complicit in any of Mr. Park's questionable activities. However, I did get the impression that Ms. Brown has chosen as a mentor and advisor a man of questionable integrity. That choice by Ms. Brown seems less nefarious on her part than naive.

Thenonymous
Thenonymous

Man, you nailed it! Non-binding, feel-good, meaningless, UN resolutions are a creeping threat. Agenda 21 is so sinister in their scope, it is only rivaled by the Texas Legislature taking a moment out of the session to proclaim Official Blue Bell Ice Cream Day. You should totally stock up on rice and beans. That way, when the "shit hits the fan", you will be one of the 'lions' and not the 'gazelles.' Maybe this weekend, you can clean out that spare bedroom so you can store drums of fuel in your house. Then it's a simple matter of buying some buttless chaps and monuting the big crossbow on the mini-van.

Patrick225
Patrick225

Hold on for a second. I'm a critic but Ms. Brown has not done anything illegal and despite some ties to Mr. Park who seems to be a questionable choice in mentor, she's not doing anything wrong by raising the issues she believes are important to her district. The fact that her proposed solutions are incredibly simplistic and completely unworkable are not criminal. If she wishes to serve on the City Council and District A wishes to support her contined service, that's their business. I look at her as a bright and shining example of what poorly informed, overly dogmatic people look like when it comes to addressing real issues in the city, namely hilarious caricatures ill-equipped to affect real change. Give me some more time to point and laugh.

The world is getting dumber.
The world is getting dumber.

You're casting aspersions on the Houston Press' journalistic integrity? You read and comment at World Net Daily.

MadMac
MadMac

Another Ayn Rand follower?

basshole
basshole

Thanks for posting this. She's frighteningly ill-equipped to be in the position she's in. This is the sort of thing that people should have to watch before they are allowed to vote. Great article.

Elizabet
Elizabet

This article reads like a movie I would surely watch. Good job.

Patrick225
Patrick225

Ye Gods...I know 10th graders with a better understanding of how the government at the city and county levels works. Her understanding, or more accurately lack thereof, of the relationship between the City of Houston and Harris County is stunning.

JeffDaiell
JeffDaiell

Let's see. Those who defend lower-income and middle-income taxpayers are demonized while those who side the the mega-corporations who are the main beneficiaries of city contracts are labeled compassionate. That does not bode well for Houston's less fortunate. Jeff Daiell

LIEBERTARIANS
LIEBERTARIANS

"If the IRS sent $1,000,000 checks to all these so-called libertarians with no strings attached, how many of them would refuse the money in defense of their sacred honor? Puh-leeeeeze. They'd take the money, then scream about how the gummint wastes too much money." Then they'd go on the Houston Press comments section and lie about how 'they gave money to Helena Brown's campaign', and how they 'look forward to giving even more in the future.'

Anse
Anse

I get what you're saying. So what we need to do is eliminate all private-sector contracts for government work, and simply have government agencies be in charge of road-building, infrastructure maintainance, prisons, etc. That would probably require some additional government spending, but at least we could keep those big ol' nasty contractors from getting any of our money. I could agree with this.

Thenonymous
Thenonymous

If you "understand and accept" that "taxation is theft," then yeah... you're equally likely to believe all other kinds of crap: "Helena Brown is a committed, non-fringe, council member who is doing a great job!" "Those gold coins they advertise on tv are a great investment!" "Unicorns pose an urgent threat to the human race!"

Alex
Alex

People need to understand and accept that taxation IS theft. Once you get that, Helena is no longer fridge, but is instead committed. She's doing a good job. This article has very obvious bias.

Anon
Anon

This is an interesting article insofar as it details the William Park connection. It's rather odd, and was certainly worth exploring. As someone who is an acquaintance of Helena's, I must admit that I always thought she was a little bit on the crazy side. But I have a problem with this article taking that about her and implying that it is symptomatic of the entire right-wing / libertarian movement / tea party. "Parade of the horribles" arguments amount to shoddy journalism, and the evident bias devalues the otherwise interesting aspects of this piece. One could easily say, "Liberals support domestic terrorism," because those kids in Ohio who were leaders in the Occupy movement tried to blow up a bridge. But saying that would be ridiculous, much in the same way that implying that Helena, who I don't think was at all qualified for this seat and holds some strange views, somehow represents the tea party movement, or the right-wing in any serious way.

Wilson
Wilson

Now Ablaza is working on the campaign of that Judge the grand jury wanted to indict, but due to political reasons the DA wouldn't charge him. Ablaza sure knows how to pick the most questionable politicians to associate with, but then again, birds of a feather

Jason C.
Jason C.

Yes. That's what I'm pointing out. Was it a crucifix--highly unlikely for a Baptist--or was it just a cross? A writer purporting to weigh in on, or have insights into, the interaction of certain religious and political subcultures ought to know the difference.

Guy
Guy

No kidding ... a neocon libertarian. Duh ... Guy McLendon Member of Libertarian Party 2006/2008/2010 National Platform Committees

scottsdalebubbe
scottsdalebubbe

@Wiley6573 -- The "elite class and a slave class" are the agenda of the Republicans and the Koch brothers.  Guess which one you'll be in.

scottsdalebubbe
scottsdalebubbe

There is a war on everyone else from some CINOs (Christians in Name Only).  If they get any more power, we are headed for a Xtian taliban, run by warped Xtian ayatollahs, who will impose their warped version of Xtian sharia law.  They are about as Christian as the National Socialist Party in Germany was socialist.  The only public goods were what they kept for themselves -- the elite and the loyal.  It can happen here.

scottsdalebubbe
scottsdalebubbe

Do you really want a legislator without a mind of her own who doesn't even have the brains to vet her own staff -- or to ask someone reliable to vet him for her?  The woman's own ideas are ignorant and misinformed.  In addition, she is silly putty in the hands of someone with a known and public record as a grifter.  Yet you are minimizing the damage that might be done by her.  With 16-1 votes consistently, District A is now without credible representation.

scottsdalebubbe
scottsdalebubbe

Brown's proposals will reduce expenditures like GWB's two "off-budget" wars.  One way or another, the money is spent because the items you mentioned are standard expenditures.  Either the County takes over and bills the City or bills the citizens of the City *and* the County in the form of increased taxes.  Or the City contracts the construction work with private industry (which it probably does some of already).  Then it's a stimulus of some sort -- and a big No-No for Brown because of where the money came from -- money paid into the Federal government by City and County taxpayers.

 

Brown is dumb as a brick and twice as ignorant.  She does not understand the flow of money at all.

Mam
Mam

Means the same thing to me. BS.

 
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