Records from '99 altered before Harris commissioner's trial
A U.S. Department of Justice inquiry has resulted in a correction to decade-old minutes from Harris County Commissioners Court less than two weeks before the government's bribery case against Commissioner Jerry Eversole is scheduled to start.
In 1999, Eversole's co-defendant, Michael Surface, was appointed to the board of directors of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., then appointed chairman of the board. The government's files showed Eversole had made the motions, but the county's minutes showed another commissioner had done so.
After checking files from the meeting, staff in the County Clerk's office confirmed Eversole had made the motions, and notified Commissioners Court of the correction at its meeting Tuesday.
A federal indictment accuses Eversole of steering lucrative county contracts and appointments — including to the Sports & Convention Corp. — to Surface in exchange for more than $100,000 in cash and gifts.
He is charged with one count of accepting a bribe and one count of conspiracy, along with two counts of filing false income tax statements. He has denied any wrongdoing.
His trial is scheduled to begin March 7 in U.S. District Court.
Commissioner El Franco Lee inquired about the item on Tuesday's agenda, spurring an explanation from first assistant county attorney Terry O'Rourke and a minor dust-up between Eversole and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.
'I'm not talking to you'
The paperwork error was discovered last August, after Surface's attorney, Chip Lewis, sent the Justice Department the meeting records regarding his client's appointments. The minutes conflicted with other county documents prosecutors had on file.
Assistant U.S. trial attorney John Pearson called Doug Adkinson, a lawyer in Emmett's office, who saw the discrepancy and informed Pearson and then-County Clerk Beverly Kaufman's staff.
At court Tuesday, Eversole showed irritation when told the inquiry had passed through Emmett's office.
As Emmett moved to speak, Eversole cut him off, saying, "I'm not talking to you."
Eversole then asked if Emmett would be willing to have someone scour the minutes from recent meetings for mistakes.
Emmett began to reply, "If somebody brings it to our —"
"I'm bringing it to your attention," Eversole snapped. "I want you to check that."
Emmett said he would, then added, "But you have to understand, this is very much like a subpoena, commissioner. … We believe in following through on requests that we get from the Department of Justice."
Eversole then turned to O'Rourke and asked, "Are you telling me the county judge has to do what he did?"
"It's not a duty," O'Rourke said. "Ideally, they could have gone to the county clerk, but they don't know how the county works. … The person who has the authority here is the county clerk."
After the meeting, Emmett said outsiders often confuse the judge's role with that of a city mayor, through whose office most information flows. Emmett said his staff simply passed the prosecutors to the right people.
Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined comment.
Kaufman said she was informed of the error last August, but said an Aug. 27 fire that destroyed the county's voting equipment diverted her attention.
Kaufman also said two sets of documents from the meeting were correct, but that the actions they described had been recorded incorrectly in the minutes.
"I wasn't real bent out of shape that the minutes needed to be corrected because there was evidence that we did have," Kaufman said, referring to the correct documents. "I was mindful of it, but it didn't get taken care of before my term ended."
Her successor, County Clerk Stan Stanart said he caught wind of the error in January, shortly after taking office.
"Nobody asked me to make any changes, but it's my responsibility to make changes … when I know there's an error," Stanart said, adding that he understood it was politically sensitive. "It's an awkward moment. We're just doing the right thing."
Chip Lewis, Surface's lawyer, said no one has ever challenged the facts in question.
"The tape is clearly Commissioner Eversole, and we've never disputed that it was Commissioner Eversole," Lewis said, adding that other documents from the meeting show Surface was a consensus pick. "This wasn't an Eversole-driven train. We never denied Eversole supported the motion, but everybody did."
Eversole declined further comment.
Chronicle reporter Chris Moran contributed to this story.