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Democrats Whitmire, Ogg taking on alleged corruption in Democratic-run Houston


(The Center Square) – New Houston Mayor John Whitmire and the city’s outgoing district attorney, Kim Ogg, both Democrats, continue to root out alleged public corruption in Democratic-controlled Houston.

In a joint news conference, Whitmire and Ogg announced that seven former city employees and contractors were charged with corruption.

Rooting out conflicts of interest and public corruption was one of the reasons he ran for mayor, Whitmire said.

“As recently as a couple of weeks ago when we laid out the budget, you might notice we didn’t ask for additional revenue although we do have shortfalls because I assured the public that we wouldn’t ask for additional revenue until we could guarantee that we’ve removed conflicts of interest and public corruption,” Whitmire said.

The charges came about after KPRC Fox 26 News investigated public works contracts being issued under former Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration. Turner planned to handle the alleged corruption internally. Whitmire instead contacted Ogg for criminal prosecution.

“We will not tolerate public corruption,” Whitmire said. “We will go where the facts take us. I can assure you during my administration, whether it’s City Hall, Metro, the airport, wherever there are conflicts of interest and where an investigation shows corruption, we will be doing an investigation to see that those agencies are held accountable.”

He also reiterated his commitment to fiscal responsibility, saying: “Houston has a shortfall. We cannot ask for additional money until we can assure that every dollar is being honestly used to run city government.”

Whitmire’s administration is “dedicated to transparency and the cooperation that we’ve received from this administration stands in stark contrast to the last seven years,” Ogg said.

“People hate public corruption because it costs taxpayer money and more importantly it violates the public trust in government,” she said. Charges levied against the alleged offenders range from “official abuse of official capacity to tampering with evidence, namely documents.” They range across a number of actions, she said, “which equate to bribery for a scheme centering on the city of Houston water line repair contracts.”

The lead defendant, Patrice Lee, a former Public Works maintenance manager, had access to roughly $80 million in emergency funds for waterline breaks and inspections. She and at least two businessmen devised a scheme “to essentially put her on the payroll as a consultant for the very same companies that were getting contracts and doing business with her department with the city,” Assistant DA Mike Levine said.

Lee is accused of soliciting bribes and kickbacks totaling over $320,000, according to court documents. “At least $750,000 went into the pockets of Patrece Lee, her brother and others,” Ogg said.

Lee was arrested. The others were expected to turn themselves in, Ogg said.

Levine and Texas Rangers investigators helped bring the charges forward; an investigation is ongoing. A grand jury also issued indictments.

The announcement comes six months after Whitmire was sworn into office and began reversing the political logjam that characterized his predecessor’s administration, The Center Square reported. He first dropped the city’s challenge to a law he sponsored while in the state Senate to provide pay parity for firefighters. He also began working with a former Republican colleague to ensure that $200 million in unspent Hurricane Harvey relief funds were used.

Within three months of being in office, he reversed his predecessor’s eight-year conflict with the city’s firefighters and vowed to clean up a Houston Police Department debacle related to 264,000 crime reports being dropped, forcing the police chief to resign.

Last month, after “inheriting a mess,” Whitmire introduced a city budget with no new taxes or fees and said he was committed to “addressing conflicts of interest and public corruption,” a campaign pledge. Two weeks later, he and Ogg announced the public corruption charges.

Last month, Ogg also turned over a Harris County judge corruption case to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office to ensure it would be prosecuted.

Ogg lost her primary election in March to an attorney who received $700,000 from billionaire Democratic donor George Soros’ Justice and Safety PAC, which prioritizes getting district attorneys elected to implement policies that abolish bail, release criminals, and defund the police.

Whitmire said he planned to run “city business as transparent as possible. I will hold people accountable, and that is the reason I’m here today. This is just an example of how people will be held accountable.”