13 Undercover

Harris County-produced movie racks up bills

Friday, April 27, 2012

We stick our watchdog on the county's watchdog. 13 Undercover is back and this investigation is about more than the Harris County Attorney's Office. It really is about dogs and an expensive movie you'd paid to make.

Vince Ryan campaigned as an ethics watchdog, so you'd figure his office would the first to make sure your money wasn't wasted. Instead, they spent money like they were in Hollywood.

Ah, the cinema; the magic of pictures and sounds all on the big screen. This one is hardly a science fiction classic. But the guy who directed this cinematic gem was also hired to make a movie with your money. You'll scream when you see the bills.

"Explain it to the people who work real hard for a living," KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy said.

And here's the guy making movies on your dime: Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan.

It was a documentary about dog fighting. There had been a big bust by the DPS -- 55 arrests and more than 300 dogs saved. And no one disputes that dog fighting is not only illegal, it's downright cruel.

But Vince Ryan, he wasn't even in office when it happened.

"I've had dogs and loved dogs my whole life," Ryan said.

No, this was the new county attorney telling the camera just how tough he was going to be on people who fight dogs.

"The problem of dogs are severe and part of the effort was to prevent dogs from killing children," Assistant Harris County Attorney Terry O'Rourke said.

Who would not want to stop mean dogs from attacking our kids? But why did we need a movie director?

"Why Fleming Fuller?" we asked O'Rourke.

"Because he was the best available," he said.

This county contract said we would spend a maximum of $10,000 and finish in one month.

But look at the first bills for research: more than $6,000 -- $1,000 a day just for the director to come here to consult. Then add weeks of hotel bills over an entire year. Sushi, steak houses, valet parking, lots of plane flights. It cost more than $100,000.

"Do you think spending $100,000 on that dog video was a good idea?" we asked Vince Ryan.

"Yes," he replied.

"You do?" we pressed.

That's because Fleming Fuller lives in North Carolina, so we flew him back and forth to Houston a lot -- even paid to fly his crew to Montana to edit the video.

"It's not just that they flew guys back and forth, they flew his buddy back and forth. That's what's disturbing," Texas Watchdog Editor Trent Siebert said.

Oh yeah, did we mention the movie director is a longtime friend of Ryan's top assistant, Terry O'Rourke?

"It's the strand that connects everything together; it's a person in power helping his buddy," Siebert said.

"So the best available means you talked to local production people and nobody was available?" we asked O'Rourke.

"Yeah," he replied.

"You did?"

"Yeah."

"OK, because we'll want to see the records of that," we said.

"Based on that look, I would like him to show some evidence to back up what he says," Siebert said.

We asked. The names never came.

"I'm not going to make an agreement on television to talk to you about a contract we made by writing," O'Rourke said.

Mr. O'Rourke, we're still waiting.

A lot of the video was free -- DPS surveillance video -- but those Hollywood folks know that some scenes are more expensive than others to shoot.

Take this one: a man and his loyal companion frolicking on the beach. The director charged $500 just for a travel day from Houston to Galveston, just for his time. There's lots of expenses, like the hotel bills from the exclusive San Luis Resort, a pricey dinner in Jamaica Beach at Nate's Seafood. Based on the bill, it must have been shrimptastic. We found another bill at a Galveston hotel next door for the same night; it says Fleming Fuller, too, but the address on the bill is a Houston one, where Terry O'Rourke lived.

"Your hotel bill under Mr. Fuller's name?" we asked O'Rourke.

"It may be, I don't know. I will look at it," he replied.

It was apparently a nice weekend at the beach, and as they say in show biz, at least they got the money shot. Hey wait a minute, isn't that guy with the dog your county attorney?

"It sort of looks like a campaign commercial," we told Ryan.

"Well Wayne, I've said for years and years, and you probably should use it, the best government is also good politics; good politics is the best government," Ryan said.

In the end the documentary was so graphic, they had to spend more of your money cutting it down to just seven minutes. That's $13,000 a minute. And look how many people have actually watched the video on YouTube: 171. Isn't that a steep price to pay for a politician's box office flop?

13 Undercover Interactive: See how you're your money was spent  the bills, the connections; and see if their records back up their story.

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