A local construction company taken off the list of approved contractors for the Houston ISD has alleged in federal court that a rival company funneled kickback money to trustee Larry Marshall through his campaign treasurer in return for his support of that firm's work with the district.
Citing documents uncovered during the discovery process of a suit initially filed last December, the Gil Ramirez Group and Gil Ramirez Jr. say that Eva Jackson of RHJ-JOC, Inc. paid Marshall's campaign treasurer Joyce Moss-Clay a total of $185,000 (saying there was no justification for this large an amount) and that Moss-Clay in turn handed at least part of the money over to Marshall.
Not so, says Arturo G. Michel, attorney for Marshall. "I think that his campaign treasurer and Mr. Marshall had a business relationship that has gone on for several years. There's no evidence that there were kickbacks either for the work they did or to get the job," he tells Hair Balls.
Michel said the Ramirez Group never should have been selected for work with the district to begin with because it wasn't ranked high enough in a committee evaluation of companies, and RHJ always was rated higher. An internal auditor questioned the list of approved contractors and in a subsequent re-review of the companies' qualifications, the list was changed.
In the suit filed in federal court by attorney Chad Dunn, the Gil Ramirez Group and and Gil Ramirez Jr. accuse HISD, Marshall, RHJ-JOC, Inc. and Eva Jackson of RHJ-JOC of bribery and racketeering. The suit alleges that Marshall replaced contractors with one of his political donors and violated the federal RICO Act. All are accused of bribery and racketeering.
Marshall has denied all charges. And his attorney said today that Marshall wasn't on the committee that put together the approved contractors' list and as one trustee out of several, wouldn't be able to direct the outcome just on his say-so.
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But HISD has begun a review of its procurement procedures after trustee Anna Eastman said she thought it was time to do so earlier this month.
Superintendent Terry Grier is asking the Council of Great Schools and an unnamed third party to review, among other things, the relationship between the district's trustees and its vendors -- amid reports that both Board President Paula Harris and trustee Marshall have relationships with vendors doing business with the district.
According to the court documents filed Wednesday, "Jackson was paying an intermediary, Joyce Moss-Clay thousands of dollars for 'consulting work.' " Clay reportedly received about $170,275 in checks and about $14,500 in cash. The suit alleges "that part of the payments received by Clay were transferred to Marshall. Perhaps the cash payments were made so they could easily be forwarded directly to Marshall."
"Plaintiffs allege Clay performed no services for Jackson that justify these large payments other than to arrange for Jackson to replace Plaintiffs as the Job Order Contractor." And later: "Jackson admits there are no documents that demonstrate Clay actually performed any service that would justify these large payments. Plaintiffs allege Clay does not have the education, experience and training to justify these large payments."