An unusual slogan and graphic grace the Web page for Gerald Womack's Houston City Council campaign. Next to a photo of Womack -- a 44-year-old, pencil-thin real estate company executive and former congressional staffer -- is the headline "Footprints Through District D," accompanied by a pop-up silhouette of tracks made by a pair of bare feet.
Presumably the candidate for the district covering southeast Houston and the Montrose meant to call attention to his civic accomplishments on numerous nonprofit boards, as well as his stint as campaign manager and district director for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. As it turns out, however, not all the tracks Womack has left behind make for a sterling campaign résumé.
He ran at age 21 for the Texas House of Representatives, losing in a runoff election. By the early '80s, Gerald Wayne Womack was the golden child of Houston inner-city real estate circles. He attended Texas Southern University and the University of Houston and, while still in his early twenties, got his real estate broker's license. He was touted as a whiz kid realtor, helping to reinvigorate stagnant, deteriorating Third Ward neighborhoods.
That early luster on his business career abruptly faded in late 1984, when the Texas Real Estate Commission refused to renew his license. It issued a string of findings that Womack had signed a property deed without the owner's knowledge and had created a fake identity including a false driver's license and social security numbers to purchase a home and open credit accounts. The commission found that he had even used a relative to impersonate the fake character, named Wayne Womack, during property transactions.
After a Houston hearing, the TREC presiding officer at the time, James Fletcher, concluded that "the Commission is not satisfied that Gerald Wayne Womack would conduct his real estate brokerage with honesty, trustworthiness and integrity."
Although Womack's problems with the state have long been rumored within Houston's real estate community, the specifics stayed buried in TREC files until now. Contacted at his campaign office, Womack did not flatly deny any of the TREC legal findings. Instead, he sought to play down their significance.
"I got involved in a lawsuit that [the TREC] pulled up," he initially recalled, "and because of the information in that suit, they denied to renew" the license. "It was a personal situation that had nothing to do necessarily with a client."
According to the TREC findings, in late December 1980 Womack signed the name of Gerald A. Reese to a warranty deed for a Riverside Terrace home without Reese's knowledge, and then had it recorded in Harris County records. Several months later he ordered an inspection and subsequent repairs to a property at 2407 Calumet, his current homestead, but billed the costs to a title company involved in a previous transaction concerning the same property. He eventually was forced to pay the bills himself.
The rather dry TREC report livens up with a September 1, 1981, transaction in which Gerald negotiated an earnest money contract to allow his brother Anthony Jerome Gage to sell 2407 Calumet to one Wayne Womack. The brother, according to the TREC, held title to the property by a forged deed, and Wayne Womack was the alias for Gerald Womack. The realtor then used the purported earnest money contract to obtain an FHA-insured loan via an elaborately staged charade.
According to the TREC, Gerald assembled a package of fictitious documents to bring Wayne Womack to life, including a bogus social security number, Texas driver's license, credit statement and employment status.
The playlet climaxed a month later when Gerald brought a relative, Leslie Womack, to the closing of the sale and introduced him to the loan officer as Wayne Womack. The TREC finding concluded that "Gerald Wayne Womack knew the relative was not Wayne Womack, as Wayne Womack was a fictitious person or alias or alter ego of Gerald."
It must have been quite a Womack-heavy scene: Gerald's brother presenting a forged deed and fabricated earnest money contract; Gerald orchestrating the deal as realtor, with Leslie acting out the role of the fictitious Wayne. The transaction closed, and Gerald/Wayne received the FHA-insured loan for the home he currently occupies.
Having discovered the uses of an alter ego, Gerald then put Wayne to work in other venues. The same month, according to the TREC, he applied to upscale clothing store Sakowitz for a charge account. Natch, he used the identity and fake credentials of Wayne to open the account. Gerald then charged $2,000 on Wayne's account, which remained unpaid for several years, during which time Sakowitz won a court judgment against him.
When Gerald applied to renew his broker's license in 1984, the TREC noted that Womack falsely stated that he had no outstanding judgments against him. Shortly before the TREC hearing convened, Gerald finally paid Wayne's bill.
Womack says he could have contested the findings, but the potential costs were too high.
"There are a lot of avenues I could have done and did," recalls Womack. "Certainly I could have taken it to court. [But] they really literally wanted to rape me blind. I had one lawyer say, 'Fine, you sign over your house.' "
Womack got through the process having suffered no legal punishment for his transgressions other than losing his broker's license. Oddly, the TREC granted him a real estate sales license only two years ago, with the sponsor being his own corporation, Womack Development and Investment.
TREC spokeswoman Loretta De Hay explains that there's nothing in state regulations that prevents someone unfit to hold a broker's license from owning a real estate company that employs brokers and salesmen. Womack reportedly got the salesman's license with the assistance of several friendly state legislators. Theoretically at least, his sales activities are supervised by broker Sallie Sampson, a subordinate in his company.
Asked if he had done anything wrong in his past real estate dealings, Womack says his accomplishments in recent years far outweigh the negative findings by the TREC.
"It was a mistake that was probably made on my behalf, and I had to learn from it, that I had to get down and really get out to work," says the candidate. "It's made me a stronger person I didn't let that one incident deter me from being able to succeed. I didn't walk around here with gold chains around my neck. I worked hard every day to make life better for my neighborhood."
Since then, Womack's property dealings have not exactly been free of controversy. County records show he has been sued for delinquent property taxes 12 times by area taxing entities since 1995, with at least four cases active at the time he filed for the City Council race. Womack says that, after filing as a candidate, all back taxes on his holdings were paid off. According to the realtor, it's all part of dealing with properties in deteriorated areas, where renovation costs are high and financing is difficult to obtain.
Womack's opponents in the District D contest include longtime civic activist Ada Edwards and Darryl Carter, a contract attorney for Linebarger Heard, the law firm that collects delinquent property taxes and prosecutes tax deadbeats. Womack suggests that some of the recent tax litigation against him is politically inspired by opponents.
"One particular property that became a tax issue was motivated because I decided to run for office, and I know that because it was only a year behind."
Carter retorts, "Gerald Womack has been sued 12 times in the last ten years. If he thinks the last two are politically motivated, how does he explain the previous ten? The man does not pay his taxes."
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Linebarger Heard attorney Bill King says tax suits are determined by computer selection using an impartial set of criteria, and are not subject to political manipulation.
Womack says his record over the past two decades far outweighs any earlier problems.
"I have been involved in every level of the government, every level of giving and contributing to the community," says the candidate. "I have been a public servant."
Come November, it seems District D voters will have to figure out whether the Womack on the ballot is self-proclaimed civic paragon Gerald -- or that mischievous alter ego from the past named Wayne.