Family of Houston Artist's Widow Says She's Being Financially Exploited

The family of a prominent Houston artist's elderly widow say she's the victim of financial exploitation, and that police and prosecutors don't seem interested.

Hazel Biggers' husband, John Biggers, who died in 2001, founded Texas Southern University's art department, and his own work has been exhibited in museums across the country. According to a November 2013 Harris County probate court investigator's report, Hazel Biggers suffers from dementia and "she has allegedly been the victim of a handyman who has taken advantage of her to the tune of over $200,000 in the last 18 months."

Biggers, who at that time did not have a legal guardian, made out checks for as much as $60,000 to purported handyman Napoleon Bruns, but it's unclear what the money was for. When contacted by the Houston Press, Bruns initially said he would talk about the checks, but he did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.

Court Investigator Ray Sullins' report states that Biggers "is incapable of handling her own finances, and is in danger of constant exploitation." The report also states that Sullins spoke with a Houston Police Department sergeant who "says he has enough evidence to make an arrest."

Sullins also wrote that "there is even one check made out to cash for $25,000, which I asked Ms. Biggers about. She told me that she went to her bank with Mr. Bruns and cashed a check for $25,000 and handed it to him. She said this was a loan to him, so I asked her if she had him sign any type of agreement, and she said she did not. I also asked if he has repaid any part of the loan, and she said he had not."

Seventeen months later, Biggers' family is wondering why there hasn't been an arrest.

"I'm dismayed at the inertia of the Houston Police Department in this case," Biggers' brother, David Hales, told the Press. Hales, who lives in Maryland, says neither he nor his other siblings were aware of Biggers' seeming inability to control her finances. Hales said he spoke with Biggers on the phone every day, and a sister who lives in Austin told the Press that she regularly visited Biggers.

Sgt. Jeff Headley, with HPD's financial crimes unit, told the Press in an email, "This case is still under review and investigation by the District Attorney's Office. It has been presented to the Harris County DA's office for review by a Grand Jury for possible indictment."

Headley also wrote that HPD "is concerned with the exploitation of elderly citizens and intends to continue to pursue the case."

Hales provided the Press with emails showing that he contacted Headley as early as April 2013, sending copies of checks that Biggers wrote to Bruns in 2012 for $60,000 and $3,500.

In August 2013, Headley told Hales in an email that he got "side tracked by several other cases" but would "try to get the warrant for [Bruns]."

In a February 2014 email, Headley told Hales that he warned Bruns "that he is not to step foot on her property, call her, answer calls from her, accept money from her, and have any other form of contact with her."

Emails shows that Hales kept in regular contact with Hales, providing copies of checks, as well as Sullins' report. In August 2014, a year after Headley said he would "try" to get a warrant for Bruns, Hales wrote, "Given that more than 12 months have passed since my contacting the HPD, and considering that a follow on investigation [sic] has occurred, I am hopeful that the HPD can provide some reading on the status of the case....Any information that you can provide is appreciated."

A few weeks later, Headley wrote Hales to explain that he had "an appointment with an Assistant District Attorney who specialize[s] in these matters....Please understand that I have to get the right person to hear this case. These cases are difficult to prosecute because Mrs. Biggers actually did write those checks to the suspect and was not declared incompetent or legally unable to take care of those matters at that time. I do believe that what happened [is] a travesty and will continue to work to get this case prosecuted."

We hope that's true.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow