Knock Knock: Who's There?
High-society types and bail bondsmen rarely cross tracks unless the wealthy are in legal trouble, but Houston's Don Vannerson is a notable exception. He's made a fortune over the years bailing criminal suspects out of jail while rubbing shoulders socially in his off-hours with the River Oaks set.
But last week, Vannerson found himself the target of an embarrassing raid by constables on his own home in the tony Arlington Court development near Memorial Park. The officers came to seize cash and itemize the belongings of Vannerson and his wife Mari Papadakis Vannerson to satisfy a New Jersey court judgment won by fellow bail bondsmen against Vannerson.
Deputy Georgene Lee of Constable Glen Cheek's office hammered on the Vannersons' door bright and early Monday, and when a groggy, pajama-clad Vannerson opened that door, she served him with papers on a $2.4 million verdict won in New Jersey by Atlas Bonding. According to Atlas attorney Richard Blender, the judgment was for bonds Vannerson had written on criminal defendants who had then skipped out and failed to appear in court. Blender says Atlas had paid those forfeitures, and Vannerson's contract with Atlas made him responsible for reimbursing the company. Vannerson, claimed Blender, had refused to pay Atlas for hundreds of bond forfeitures over the last five years or so.
As the constables began rummaging through Vannerson's home, another team raided the office of his Aaron Federal Bonding agency downtown. Vannerson was not amused by the unannounced visit. He reportedly fumed and stayed clad in his pajamas during the four hours in which the five deputies, a locksmith and a video cameraman explored the house and documented his property.
Mari Vannerson seemed more attuned to the theatrical aspects of the occasion. When the raiding party arrived and whipped out its camera, she immediately got dressed and put on her makeup.
Mari's closet apparently took the most time to dissect, as the lawmen counted an Imelda Marcos junior league 74 pairs of shoes, 35 purses, including eight Chanels, and 44 robes and gowns. After getting Vannerson to open a safe in a closet of the upstairs master bedroom, the raiders seized $10,000 in cash. Also inventoried were the Vannersons' two Jaguar autos, including a four-door and a sportier XKE, a pair of shotguns and three rifles.
When The Insider later contacted Vannerson at his bond office, he claimed the raid was no raid at all, but rather a meeting.
"It's being taken care of by counsel," Vannerson soothingly explained. "There's no problem. Just an ex-wife out there hassling."
Confronted with the fact that the constables had served him with papers on the $2.5 million judgment by Atlas in New Jersey rather than with some divorce proceeding, Vannerson countered, "It's all in the courthouse, man. I don't want you to write a story. There's no purpose to it."
Vannerson, apparently under the misconception that the Houston Press is owned by the Houston Chronicle, told The Insider that "I want to show courtesy to you and R.V. Johnson with the Chronicle, but there's no story here.... I guess I can't stop you from writing what you want to write, but I would just ask you as a professional favor not to, because there's no newsworthiness there."
Makes one wonder where Vannerson got the idea he could get journalists to kill stories as professional favors. The R.V. Johnson he refers to is apparently Richard J.V. Johnson, Chronicle publisher and a pal of the Vannersons. In fact, Mari Papadakis Vannerson co-hosted what Chronicle gossip columnist Maxine Mesinger referred to last September as "a hilarious roast and toast" by the Museum of Printing History for the publisher at the River Oaks Country Club, with Don Vannerson in attendance.
The flamboyant Vannerson is something of a Houston legend, and not for his good works. When Vannerson's former wife Dot took up with Apollo astronaut Walt Cunningham, Vannerson pulled up beside the former high-flyboy at an intersection, whereupon the two duked it out in the street. Vannerson wed Mari, formerly the wife of James Coney Island owner Jimmy Papadakis, last September in a celebrity wedding breathlessly reported by Mesinger, who couldn't resist throwing in that Walt and Dot are still living together in an unmarried state.
Atlas Bonding attorney Blender had a good laugh when told that Vannerson had claimed the raid originated from a lingering dispute between Vannerson and an ex-wife. "Atlas sued, went to court and we won a judgment on money he owed us," chuckled Blender. "It has nothing to do with an ex-wife, not a damn thing."
Makes you wonder whether Vannerson's words are just as good as his bonds.
Growing Those Greenbacks
Houston City Councilman Michael Yarbrough may be under federal indictment for taking bribes in the FBI's Hotel Six sting, but that hasn't discouraged him from thinking up some creative schemes to raise money. Last week, Yarbrough told Council colleagues he had decided to run as an independent for Texas agricultural commissioner, a move that almost certainly has more to do with raising a cash crop of greenbacks than with winning office.
In the past, Yarbrough has paid himself more than $10,000 in cash out of his City Council campaign account, which he claimed was used to hire workers to help get out the vote on election day. Although officials are required by law to keep receipts documenting expenditures, Yarbrough told The Insider the workers were transients and "I don't have a lot of receipts on that kind of stuff." Yarbrough also did not file campaign reports over several reporting periods, and excused the violation with "Shit, man, that's no big thing."
Because city ordinance prohibits Council members from accepting campaign contributions during periods between elections, several City Hall observers speculate Yarbrough is trying to create a new campaign slush fund to help pay his mounting legal expenses for the upcoming federal trial.
When The Insider called the councilman's office to inquire about his credentials as a farmer, an aide referred us to his campaign office. A woman answered the phone, but claimed the councilman hasn't yet hired a manager for his statewide agricultural crusade, and was unavailable for comment.
When he does get his campaign effort going, Yarbrough might take some pointers from family law judge Annette Galik, who in the past two years has figured out her own innovative ways to generate campaign contributions, including tapping organized gambling establishments.
Early last year, Galik accepted a $3,000 in-kind contribution on a carpet from Parvizian Oriental Rugs, plus one-week accommodations at homes in Puerto Vallarta and Lake Tahoe from the law firm of Bruman and Baer. Former Metro chairman Billy Burge also donated a week's accommodations in Galveston.
Galik explained away those gifts as goodies she raffled off to raise money for her campaign, rather than using them herself.
A little harder to explain is a $500 gift for "entertainment" made late last year to the judge by Player's Island Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana, a $400 in-kind contribution from Four Season's Place Apartments in Houston and another $500 gift for "entertainment" from Orleans Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A supporter of Galik professed shock when told that the judge had listed gifts from gambling casinos on her report. "Even if she's not personally using them," opined the attorney, "it looks terrible."
Heard a good one lately? Call The Insider at (713) 624-1483 or (713) 624-1496 (fax), or send him mail the electronic way at Insider@houstonpress.com.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.