13 Undercover

Who's your county attorney really watching out for?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

We're going to show you something you've never seen before, and when you see it, you'll be asking, why are taxpayers always the last to know?

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan was elected to be your ethics watchdog, but who's he really watching out for?

When the picture came to focus, it was more than just a simple mug shot, more than a sordid tale of a guy accused of ripping off his own sick sister. That's because this guy was Edwin Harrison, the man in charge of Harris County's investments, trusted to manage billions of your dollars.

"Will you resign?" we asked him.

"I have no comment," he said.

Edwin Harrison did not resign when he was indicted and he wasn't fired, just demoted. But you were kept in the dark about the real story because County Attorney Vince Ryan already had plenty of evidence Mr. Harrison steered your money to brokers who wined and dined him.

"You believe the Harrison case was stonewalled?" we asked Harris County Judge Emmett.

"Oh absolutely," he replied.

Now we're going to show you something you've never seen, one of the reasons we are now watching the watchdog.

Meet Nick Lykos. You pay him $140,000 a year as the county's inspector general, sort of a watchdog for the watchdog.

"Are you independent? Can you do what you want?" we asked Lykos.

"I'm employed by the county attorney. I'm not independent of the county attorney," he said.

This is what Nick Lykos told his bosses back in October 2009, a stunning warning of possible corruption: "It appears Mr. Harrison has breached in fiduciary duty, violated criminal laws, deliberate actions of deception."

The date again was October 2009. But you know when the county judge first saw this report? When we showed it to him just this month.

"That whole episode was so frustrating to me," Emmett said.

The report talks about Harrison displaying photographs of prostitutes on a county computer.

"That report should have been at county commissioner and before the county judge the day after it was prepared," KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy said.

"Don't you think the public had a right to know then what was going on?" we asked Lykos.

"We were containing the investigation that we had started," he said.

The county attorney's office now says it didn't tell you because they were providing information to the DA's office, which was already investigating Harrison.

But they could've told you, or at least the elected officials who Harrison worked for.

We uncovered another internal memo dated May 2010 -- seven months later; this one from Lykos to the No. 2 man in the county attorney's office, Terry O'Rourke. It showed Harrison's phone number had even been found on the escort page of a controversial website. It warned ladies to avoid Edwin Harrison.

By then, the county judge was openly questioning Harrison's selection of bond law firms during a meeting of commissioners court. Emmett is questioning one law firm's bills, El Franco Lee is interrupting.

Here's an audiotape of the exchange:

El Franco Lee: "A lot of gibberish."

Judge Ed Emmett: "No, it's not gibberish. I think when you're talking about millions of dollars."

El Franco Lee: "We don't normally take up this time with innocuous questions like this."

Judge Ed Emmett: "They're not innocuous. I think the public has a right to hear this discussion."

The county attorney's office knew then something they didn't share with you. It's in that May 2010 report: One of Commissioner Lee's top aides was married to a partner in the very law firm Emmett was questioning. The report recommends "Mr. Harrison be removed as director of financial services." But he wasn't until after his indictment in the family mess months later.

"We were in constant discussion with key members of the commissioners court," Ryan said.

But Ryan won't tell us which commissioners; we know the county judge wasn't told.

"Our report that was given to commissioners court had certain findings in it," Lykos said.

But that was August 2010, 10 months after the original report. Missing in the official report, the recommendation to remove Harrison and all that prostitute stuff. Ironic, since one of Vince Ryan's big crusades is to stop Houston's sex trade.

"I believe he was left where he was longer than he should have been because -- I don't know that you'd call it political protection or bureaucratic protection -- but clearly there were people who didn't him to be removed," Emmett said.

There were financial reforms, and the county attorney helped you get a lot of money back.

"We recovered a million and a half dollars to the taxpayers of Harris County and I think that's significant," Lykos said.

Harrison would eventually plead guilty to felonies in his personal mess to stay out of jail. But Harris County never fired him for his conduct or anyone else. Harrison retired to his million-dollar mansion in Lamar Terrace, and none of the companies involved in the scandal lost their right to make more money from you.

"Is that in the best interest of public?" we asked Emmett.

"Speaking as an individual, I don't think so," he replied.

The FBI is now investigating the whole Harrison mess. Sound familiar, the feds coming here to clean up Harris County again?

On 13 Undercover Interactive, you can see the reports and all the sleazy details, and trust us, there are some.

On Wednesday night, wait till you see some of the emails the county attorney's office writes, what they don't want you to see now.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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