By Maurice E. Duhon, Jr.
Depending on your geographic location, you may believe, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday or end-of-the-year sale that floats your boat. Houston attorney Chad Dunn has wrapped up a “Happy holidays” gift for the Houston Independent School District school trustee Lawrence Marshall. Dunn has even decided to allow Marshall to open the gift “immediately upon receiving”.
The gift came in the form of a lawsuit that was introduced into Federal court Tuesday December 7th. Needless to say, the gift lacked any bow or card. It did however, include accusations of H.I.S.D. canceling work contracts and replacing contractors, who had been selected through a bid process, with one of Lawrence Marshall’s political donors. According to the lawsuit, Marshall helped cultivate an environment that ushered the voluntary self-ousting of former HISD superintendent Abe Saavedra after Saavedra refused to allow Marshall to replace one of the approved contractors with one of Marshall’s political patrons, Eva Jackson and her company RHJ-JOC, INC.
Chad Dunn is representing Contractor Gil Ramirez Jr. and the Gil Ramirez Group, who has also filed their suit against HISD itself. The Ramirez Group claims that HISD has been charging a 2 percent” marketing fee” to its contractors upon completed work projects (AKA illegal kickbacks). Aside from the Ramirez Group’s claims that this practice has been going on for 10 years, the group goes further into claiming the kickbacks are put into HISD’s general fund and are not used toward a security bond, instead they are used for the district’s operating expenses. Allegations in this suit include bribery (Defendant Eva Jackson’s PHJ-JOC, INC receiving preferential treatment due to political contributions), money laundering (how the money was transferred), and wire fraud (2% fees a la kickbacks).
Upon a detailed review of this lawsuit’s allegations, are we to be surprised that Chris Dunn has chosen to file this lawsuit as a violation of the federal RICO Act? For those of you who were “absent from school that day”, The RICO Act or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a federal law enacted to give extended penalties in the prosecution of organized criminal acts. The RICO Act deals with federal crimes and criminal procedure. Although it was intended to be used for the Mafia and others engaged in organized crime, RICO has been used to prosecute all sorts of criminal activity since its inception.
In response to questions on why he chose to file under the RICO Act, attorney Dunn stated: “That statute’s designed for a group of folks who get together and try to obtain the results they want from a governmental entity through using undue influence. It’s the Racketeering Influence Corrupt Practices Act so we think it’s designed to handle this situation.” Dunn also was quoted as saying “It disappoints me. It disappoints me as a father of children in the school district and as a taxpayer and as a lawyer for clients who did good work for the public through HISD and through no fault of their own lost the work. It disappoints me that public tax dollars in a sense are being distributed based on reasons other than what is in the best value for the taxpayer.”
According to the lawsuit, the Ramirez Group and 5 other contracting firms had survived an expensive, on the part of the firms, HISD bid process. The six firms were on the job for nine months when suddenly all six contracts were cancelled.
The lawsuit states that Marshall approached Abe Saavedra, superintendent at the time, when Marshall became president of the school board asking Saavedra to use Jackson as a contractor. Saavedra refused, the lawsuit reads “Defendant Marshall states that he would move forward to obtain an agreement from the school board forcing out Dr. Saavedra.” The lawsuit also states, “Once Saavedra is gone, Marshall makes sure all contracts for the approved contractors are cancelled.”
The HISD chief of bidding chose to agree with Saavedra and oppose the re-bidding process; he was “ultimately fired by HISD.”
After the re-bidding process, Jackson’s company was the only company to be approved. This reminds me of that old phrase, “killing six birds with one stone”. The lawsuit goes on to say that two more companies were later added.
With this statement, Dunn sums up his reasoning for this lawsuit’s existence. “What we’re trying to do is straighten up the process and have a fair bidding process that’s in the public and out in the open and also the Ramirez Group wants compensation for these unfair practices.”
Political rhetoric rings loud with comments such as, “It begins with our children!” and “Our children are the key to our future!” How can the taxpayers of Houston give undivided attention to their children’s needs when the adults, who are put in charge to look after the children’s best educational interests, refuse to or are unable to compose and govern themselves in an ethical and respectable manner? Maybe we should recommend our HISD board members and administrators switch roles and positions with our HISD students for a while? We would probably get some needed administrative work done and since HISD administrators can at least read, maybe we could see a rise in HISD’s dismal 45% dropout rate.
If you are unaware, there is a stigma that is attached to any defendant who stands accused of violating the Federal RICO ACT. Past defendants accused of violating RICO include the Hell’s Angels, the Latin Kings street gang, infamous mobsters, Wall Street inside trading violators, an extortion practicing health care provider, and others. Although innocent until proven guilty, Lawrence Marshall and the HISD administration have now only helped to soil the already muddied reputation of the Houston Independent School District. Did I mention the 45% drop-out rate?
For the good times, enjoy…