Emails between Houston businessman and mayor’s staff raise bribery questions

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Houston City Hall
Houston City Hall

Emails between Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s staff and local businessman Jason Yoo are raising questions of bribery, KPRC reported, and Turner’s statements to the TV station seem to contradict the digital trail. 

In an email from Yoo to City Council Relations Director William Paul Thomas and Chief Development Officer Andy Icken on Aug. 11, 2017, the developer asked for help in closing a real estate deal for a corporate headquarters for BP (formerly British Petroleum) on the city’s west side for $348 million. 

“I will donate $500,000 to city or other charity firms that Mayor wants to put from out of our commission once this deal close [sic],” Yoo wrote at the end of the email, the TV station reported.

KPRC noted that Yoo has done business with the city for years, mostly through concession contracts at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Thomas and Icken followed up with Yoo 10 days later to say they had discussed the feasibility of the request. On Aug. 22, 2017, Thomas emailed Turner’s executive assistant, Brenda Murphy, stating that the mayor said he would meet with Yoo. However, a later email from Turner to Murphy said the mayor had decided not to meet with Yoo to discuss the BP deal, KPRC reported.

“This matter was never … brought or discussed with me,” Turner told the TV station.

That interview came a day after a city spokesman emailed KPRC to say “this matter was never discussed with the mayor. The administration does not conduct business that way.”

Former federal prosecutor Michael Wynne told the TV station that the bribery suggestion in the initial email from Yoo is overt and the city should have called the FBI.

“I’m not sure how often I have seen something that is this straightforward, laying out the quid pro quo that they have in mind, that is the money in return for closing a deal,” he said.

Mark Stephens, former lead investigator for the Houston Police Department’s public integrity unit, told KPRC the city should open an investigation.

The TV station asked staffers in Turner’s office if the email had been turned over to law enforcement after the mayor was made aware of it this week, but the staffers didn’t respond. 

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