The Insider

Down at the End of Lonely Street...
The players in the FBI sting at City Hall had best be getting their new court wardrobes in order, with an accent on lightweight summer attire, because a special grand jury is being impaneled to begin hearing the government's evidence, possibly as early as next week. The guest list for the panel's sessions hasn't been published, but judging from the continuing visits by the feds to folks such as Lydia Rodriguez, the longtime City Council office manager for Ben Reyes, and Reyes' successor on Council, John Castillo, there should be quite a crowd filing in and out of the federal courthouse.

Two of the G-men involved in the investigation demonstrated impeccable taste in reading material by bringing a copy of the May 16 Press with them recently when they questioned consultant Marc Campos at his Heights office. Campos (who's not a target of the investigation, by the way) says agents Jimmy Garcia and Rod Osborne asked him to elaborate on his comment to The Insider that Reyes and Betti Maldonado, the unwitting coffee klatch hostess of the sting, "play fast and loose." Other queries concerned the city's ticket-collection contract with Municipal Collections Inc. and, on a more personal note, how long Campos and ex-girlfriend Maldonado had dated. Campos was quizzed for about an hour and told the agents may have more questions later.

Maldonado, meanwhile, ducked out on a scheduled address to the Council last week that held all the melodramatic promise of a juicy telenovela. Maldonado had signed up to speak during the Council's public session but withdrew on the advice of lawyer Ron Woods, whose blood pressure no doubt was sent soaring at the thought of his client winging it solo before every media outlet in the city (not to mention the councilmembers she claims the FBI pushed her into trying to bribe). Maldonado's no-show may have been sound from a show biz standpoint as well: she would have had to follow a middle-school marching band and Vietnamese Elvis impersonator John Nguyen, who serenaded Council with snippets of two of the King's greatest hits, including a few highly appropriate lines from that new City Hall standard, "Heartbreak Hotel."

Maldonado -- but not Nguyen -- is expected to show this Thursday for a "Friends of Betti Maldonado" rally at Elvia's Cantina on Westheimer at Fondren. In addition to a "hug and a kiss" for beleaguered stingee Maldonado, supporters are being asked to help raise $100,000 to assist Maldonado "in fighting the FBI and their injustices," according to a flier for the event. Donors are advised to send their checks for Maldonado's defense fund to her other lawyer, Dick DeGuerin. (No cash-filled envelopes, please.) And for those who can't wait on the media for their Betti updates, there's the Betti Maldonado Hot Line at 861-0909. Can T-shirts, coffee mugs and a Web page be far behind?

The Joker's Wild
Ubiquitous free-lance activist W.R. Morris has gotten plenty of media face-time out of his incessant berating of HISD and other institutions for their supposed insensitivity to Hispanics (as Morris sees it). But now, in taking to task fellow Hispanics who've criticized the FBI sting, W.R. apparently has reshuffled his deck. According to a Morris news release, "It appears that instead of trying to come to grips with a violation of public trust, dishonesty and bribery, some so-called Hispanic leaders instead prefer to use the race card." If that's so, they must have swiped that card from Morris.

They're in the Hole
A few weeks ago The Insider contemplated the meaning of those Becks Prime insignias on the Memorial Park Golf Course sign along Memorial Drive. In a whimsical aside, we suggested other avenues for future commercial encroachment in our city parks, such as renaming the Hermann Park mini-train for the Vinson & Elkins law firm. Since nobody in our editorial office is a golfer, we were blissfully unaware that V&E already has its name on a bit of parks turf, namely the 18th hole on the Memorial course.

Yes, truth is indeed stranger than our pitiful stab at fiction: all of the holes at the refurbished Memorial course are available for sponsorships. It seems the first -- that's the Browning-Ferris hole -- and V&E's 18th are the most expensive, costing the patrons $75,000 each. By comparison, Shell Oil made out like a bandit by forking over a mere $50,000 to take title to the 15th hole, which parks board executive director Candyce Rylander deems the "most beautiful" on the course. Other sponsors include Transco Energy (the unlucky 13th), NationsBank (the 17th) and clothier Harold Weisenthal (the course's clock tower), locally famous for his TV ad that proclaims, "Hi! I'm Harold. I dress 70, talk 80, shoot 90 if my putter's hot."

Each sponsor's name is included on a 15-inch-by-30-inch bronze plaque at the tee box for its hole. For their donations, V&E and Browning-Ferris are also included "in all course publicity as desired" and have the right to stage a private tournament for up to 144 players in the first year of the course's operation (along with a lunch catered by Becks Prime, natch). There are still four unsponsored holes available, but The Insider hears that an up-and-coming partnership of South American investors known as the Cayman Group may be interested in purchasing several of them.

His Putter's Hot
The Insider doesn't know if Larry Doherty is a golfer, but the legal malpractice lawyer once again is teeing off on Vinson & Elkins in court. Doherty filed suit against V&E last week, asking for $250 million in actual and punitive damages plus reimbursement of the legal fees previously paid to V&E by his client Lannie Mecom, the sister of socialite Betsy Mecom. Doherty negotiated a large, undisclosed settlement for Betsy Mecom two years ago to conclude a lawsuit against V&E that raised many of the same issues her sister is now pursuing. Both suits claim that V&E had conflicts of interest in representing the Mecom sisters and their now-divorced husbands, leading to the loss of much of the value of the women's separate inheritances from their oilman father, John Mecom Sr.

Doherty claims he tried to talk V&E managing partner Harry Reasoner into an agreement that would have precluded Lannie Mecom's suit. His proposal called for V&E to admit negligence, with both sides hiring accountants to estimate how much money was siphoned out of the Mecom estate and then submitting the difference to mediation. In return, Mecom would have waived any attempt to collect punitive damages. V&E declined that offer, and the firm's senior partner, Paul Stallings, labels the suit "not meritorious" and promises an aggressive defense. Reasoner was unavailable for comment.

To sign up for this summer's Insider/Cayman Group Open at the Glenbrook Park Golf Course, call 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax).


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