Pulling the Strings

Joe Orduna was doing his job as an investigator with the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse late last year. He gave a negative licensing evaluation to Richard Johnson's controversial antidrug program, the Golden Eagle Training Academy.

In late January Orduna had to call Houston police: Johnson, the six foot five military veteran who lost a City Council race last fall, allegedly stormed into TCADA's office with a group of supporters for an angry confrontation.

Johnson's dispute hardly ended there. Three days later Johnson, accompanied by state NAACP president Gary Bledsoe, went to top TCADA officials in Austin to complain about the negative report.

And a week after that, TCADA fired Orduna. Meanwhile, Johnson continues to get his $750,000-a-year in state-distributed federal antidrug funding for the Golden Eagle facility on Lyons Avenue. A TCADA spokeswoman says Orduna was terminated for violating agency rules and procedures, not only in the case of Golden Eagle but in other instances as well.

Johnson is politically well connected to influential Houston state representatives Garnet Coleman and Ron Wilson, who in turn can affect legislative funding for TCADA. That may explain how Golden Eagle had maintained its TCADA support despite a stream of complaints over the last five years.

Parents of Hispanic and white participants claim their sons were physically abused. They say the assailants were members of a black group within Golden Eagle called the MFOI, recruited by former Nation of Islam youth minister Quanell X. And the Houston Press reported the illegal use of the nonprofit agency's vehicles in Johnson's Council campaign [Insider, December 30, 1999.] Similar allegations of political use of program assets were made when Johnson was a top aide to former councilman Michael Yarbrough.

Johnson did not return Press calls about the Orduna incident.

According to a witness, Johnson came to the TCADA office on the afternoon of January 20 and demanded in a loud voice that Orduna explain his evaluation of Golden Eagle's northeast Houston facility.

That licensure inspection report found Golden Eagle had failed to correct problems cited in three inspections over the previous four years. The violations included Johnson's expired licenses as a counselor and therapist, and similar problems with other employees.

"In a review of five personnel files, no credential verifications or designations of intern status were found," reported Orduna. "One new hire is approaching 90 days without a job description, any background or reference checks, or initial training on file." The report also found that in 40 of 49 client files reviewed, "there is no connection between the areas identified on the psycho-social [evaluation] and the items addressed in the client's treatment plan."

When Johnson arrived at the TCADA office, Orduna explained that Johnson would have to talk to supervisors about the contents of the report. Johnson reportedly snapped, "I'm going to deal with them, and when I'm finished, I'm going to come back and deal with you."

The following morning Johnson returned to the TCADA offices with a group of men identified as Golden Eagle employees. After being asked to wait in the reception area, Johnson barged into the work area over the protests of a receptionist. He went to a conference room and was quoted as telling Orduna, "I've brought these men here so you could look into the faces of those who are being affected by your action." Orduna then phoned in a trespassing complaint to police, but Johnson and the group left before the officers arrived.

The next Monday Johnson and Bledsoe showed up at the Austin TCADA headquarters. Johnson complained to Doug Wilson, the program's quality assurance deputy, that Orduna had treated him unfairly. A week later the investigator received a letter notifying him of his termination. It did not include a detailed explanation for the firing.

TCADA spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman says the agency fired Orduna "because he failed to follow policies and procedures." She added, "It involves more than just [Golden Eagle], but I don't think I can clarify."

As for Johnson's alleged "trespassing," Goodman says the TCADA office is a state office "and anybody can come into it." She says that Johnson entered the work area after waiting for 20 minutes in the reception room.

"I think we regret the way he was treated," says Goodman. "Customer service is beyond just the clients who go into our facilities. It is also about how we treat our providers and our licensees. We want everybody to be treated with courtesy and respect."

Goodman says TCADA is re-examining the critical report on Golden Eagle "and we'll probably reissue it just to make sure it completely meets our policies and procedures." She adds, "At that time [Golden Eagle] will give us a new response, and we will evaluate that response."

Amazing what a few well-placed words to the right state officials can accomplish.

Meanwhile, Goodman says several recent complaints about Golden Eagle are under investigation. In one case, the program did not supply a probation officer with information on a client who failed to return to the facility from a weekend pass. Then there was an assault on a client by four other clients. In another case, a client was reported burned in an incident at the facility. And finally, Goodman says TCADA has asked University of Texas Health Science Center officials, who oversee some TCADA funding, to investigate the use of Golden Eagle equipment in the city election.

The investigator assigned to those hot potatoes might want to take out an employment insurance policy before proceeding further.

E-mail Tim Fleck at tim.fleck@houstonpress.com.

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