Nearly three years after a Harris County Probate Court investigator warned that the elderly widow of prominent artist John Biggers was being bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a handyman, a Houston man has been charged with felony theft.
Napoleon Bruns II, 72, was charged in Harris County District Court September 1 and released on $100,000 bond. Although investigator Ray Sullins wrote in November 2013 that Bruns allegedly scammed Hazel Biggers out of "over $200,000," the criminal complaint only accuses Bruns of stealing between $100,000 and $200,000.
Sullins's letter to a probate judge states that he had spoken with a Houston Police Department sergeant who said "he has enough evidence to make an arrest, and he plans to do so as soon as he returns to work from being off for surgery."
A sergeant in HPD's crime unit told the Houston Press in April 2015 that "the case is still under review" and was "presented to the Harris County DA's Office for review by a Grand Jury for possible indictment [sic]."
John Biggers founded Texas Southern University's art department, and his own work was exhibited in museums across the country. He died in 2001, leaving Hazel Biggers in charge of a sizable estate. A family friend who checked in on Biggers first alerted the court to the possible exploitation after discovering that Biggers had written large checks to Bruns for no apparent purpose.
Sullins's report noted that, by the time Biggers was 87, she had slipped into dementia and had "reached a stage where it appears that she is susceptible to people taking advantage of her." He wrote that Biggers had written checks to Bruns or his maintenance company "for exuberant [sic] amounts, as much as $50,000-$60,000."
When we called Bruns last year to ask what the money was for, he told us he'd call us back. He never did, which made us sad. We called again this week, using the phone number Bruns listed on his bond paperwork, but the man who answered the phone said he wasn't Bruns, which we totally believe.
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Bruns can be a hard guy to get ahold of. Harris County Clerk records show that he was sued in 2009 by a client who accused Bruns of taking $19,000 for work that was never performed. Problem is, the client's process server was never able to pin Bruns down.
The server wrote in a 2010 letter that "service to [Bruns'] business and home residence was greatly hindered due to no viable accessibility to reach Mr. Bruns, due to his business and home residence being of the fortress type of dwelling." (The server also listed Bruns's number as the same number we used.)
Although it seemed to take an unusually long time for HPD and the DA's Office to take action, we're glad they finally have. So is Biggers's family.
Biggers's brother, David Hales, told us in an email: "The Biggers and Hales families express their gratitude to the Houston Press, to the District Attorney's Office, and to the Houston Police Department for diligently pursuing this case. Hopefully, this exposure will alert other families with elderly members who may be subject to exploitation."