Encore, Mayor Bob, Encore!
Fresh from his boffo performance on Court TV as folksy Uncle Bob in the Sylvester Turner-Wayne Dolcefino trial, Bob Lanier is now preparing for another starring performance, this one before the federal grand jury weighing evidence in the FBI's City Hall sting. The mayor is set to take the stand next week to tell the panel his version of how the downtown hotel deal unfolded, as well as anything else he might know about what transpired once the G-men disguised as Latin-American investors hired Ben Reyes and Betti Maldonado to ensnare councilmembers with illegal cash contributions. Of particular dramatic interest should be that tearful meeting between Maldonado and Lanier after she ceased to cooperate with the feds and bolted to Bob and Elyse's Huntingdon condo to tell all -- or at least all she wanted to reveal.
While Lanier's appearance indicates the feds may be wrapping up the hotel end of the investigation, don't expect indictments from the grand jury before December at the earliest, with sometime after the New Year being a more likely ETA. According to our sources, 1997 could bring anywhere between six and ten indictments, with as many as five former or sitting councilmembers caught in the cross hairs. The probe continues to branch out, most notably into connections between Mexican business interests that received City Hall contracts and former councilman Reyes and his two brothers, Greg and Tony Reyes. Both Reyes' brothers and his girlfriend, former wastewater project supervisor Rosalie Brockman, had previously invoked the Fifth Amendment to ward off grand jury questioning. Brockman has now been given immunity to testify, indicating she is not a potential target for indictment but does have some information of interest. The Reyes brothers, however, have not been given immunity.
Just Say Nay
In recent years the Nay Sayers have demonstrated increasing muscle in Houston electoral politics, with heavy rail, zoning and the HISD bond issue all going down to defeat and, as we go to press, the proposal to build a downtown ballpark looking shaky. Behind the "just say no" movement is the unlikely evolving alliance of Property Rights Association president Barry Klein, the Christian conservative brother act of Bruce and Steven Hotze and Harris County Treasurer Don Sumner, a Republican. Voters got a look at the group's latest project, a city charter change proposal, on display at petition tables at 100 or so selected precincts on Tuesday. The Nay Sayers were trying to collect 25,000 signatures to force a future referendum on their proposal requiring the city fathers and mothers to hold an election just about any time they want to buy an ice cream cone. All property tax increases, fee increases over the rate of inflation and any bond issue involving a stadium would trigger a city election, effectively mandating government by referendum for any significant revenue enhancer.
Klein and Bruce Hotze have met with several groups of business people unsuccessfully seeking financial support for the charter change. Klein and Steven Hotze are sharing the automated phone bank of Larry Lee's TLC Marketing, and Bruce Hotze is coordinating the effort out of the Hotze family's Compressor Engineering Corporation offices. "Bruce's goals are parallel with the goals of the Houston Property Rights Association," said Klein, "to protect freedoms and keep taxes down and reduce the tax burden. So in those ways, we certainly have a common interest and work together from time to time." Klein stresses his group is nonpartisan and works with both parties. "On issues and principles, we come together."
Judge John Devine's congressional campaign volunteers doubled as petition pushers at some polls, a linkage Treasurer Sumner described as "a marriage of convenience." Whether it was made in Heaven or Hell is a point for debate.
Critics of Billy Burge have complained that he thinks he's above the law for refusing to step down as Metro chairman for nearly a year and a half after his state-limited term expired. Maybe the tendency runs in the family. Now comes word that Burge's stepson, 23-year-old Michael Reel, is being sought on a nationwide arrest warrant for violating the terms of his probation under a ten-year deferred sentence for possession of LSD with intent to deliver. Reel, one of two children by a previous marriage of Burge's current wife, Pamela Lamonica Burge, was sent to Harris County boot camp and later enrolled in TDCJ's Substance Abuse and Felony Punishment Facility at Baker Street. After Reel apparently broke off contact with the program, an arrest warrant was issued for him a week ago by state District Judge Mike Wilkinson.
A family acquaintance claims Reel has taken refuge in the Metro chairman's mansion on Troon Street in River Oaks. Pamela and Billy Burge were out of town in New Orleans, but a call The Insider placed to Reel this week at the Burge house was answered by an unidentified woman who explained that "Michael is out but will be back shortly." Reel's former lawyer, Terry Cornelius, said he hasn't been in contact with Reel recently but expressed doubt that the young man was anywhere near the Burge home. Cornelius said he talked with Burge by phone, and the Metro chairman professed to having no idea of Reel's whereabouts and voiced concern that his stepson didn't show for a scheduled operation on a hand injury. "We need to talk to him," Cornelius quoted Burge as saying.
Assistant district attorney Bill Hawkins says that action on Reel's arrest warrant will likely not be forthcoming any time soon. "If the warrant stays unserved for a while, we'll want to file a motion to revoke probation. Then it will fall in line like everything else." District Attorney Johnny Holmes says he doubts that Billy or Pam Burge would be breaking any law even if Reel were at their house, because there is no state statute specifically outlawing sheltering a fugitive.
So which do you think comes first: Reel's apprehension on the warrant or Billy's vacating the Metro chairmanship?
Place your bets with The Insider now at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or e-mail him at Insider@houston-press.com.
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