49ºF

Questions surround email troubles of another member of Mayor Turner's inner circle

HOUSTON – On Jan. 10, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, in the midst of a transparency scandal with his press secretary at the time, Darian Ward, said the following, "For those of you who know me, for my 26 years as a legislator. You go and talk with anybody in the Legislature, no one questions my transparency ... or fairness."

Ward, a former member of Turner's inner circle, was at the mayor’s side.

Fast forward to last Thursday, Ward was indicted by a Harris County grand jury for failing to comply with a Texas Public Information Act request. Ward is now facing the possibility of jail time and a fine. The indictment coming less than 48 hours after Channel 2 Investigates revealed another member of Turner's senior staffs -- Andy Icken -- failed to turn over personal emails detailing city business.

Icken's reason? "I never had them.”

However when Channel 2 Investigates reminded Icken he had sent the emails, Icken said, “I sent them and then they were deleted by my mail, by my email account."

Channel 2 Investigates obtained copies of Icken's personal emails as part of a February investigation into State Rep. Jim Murphy and his role with the Westchase District.

Those emails that Icken, again in his words now, "were deleted by my mail, by my email account,” show Icken providing guidance to Murphy in his negotiations with Houston Chief Operating Officer Harry Hayes. The deal Murphy and Hayes were negotiating involved a seven-figure investment from the city in a Westchase Project.

Murphy wrote Icken, "Thanks for watching my back.” Icken emails back, "Stay the course... " He then calls Hayes' strategy in the negotiation "a delaying tactic" and goes on to add, "You should be on firm ground - I believe - !!"

We wanted to know what Icken's colleague thought about the communication going on behind his back. Channel 2 Investigates found Harry Hayes after last Wednesday's City Council meeting.

After reading the email and attempting to have him examine it, Hayes declined.

Mark Stephens, a former lead investigator with HPD's Public Integrity Review, had the following reaction to what we uncovered, “The suggestion is that they are trying to hide something."

Icken admits, since his emails were deleted he did not ask the city's IT department to search his AOL account. Instead he went to a familiar source to retrieve them, State Rep. Jim Murphy, "I went to Jim and said, 'Did you have any?'"

Stephens says there is “zero” compliance by him going to Murphy. Stephens also stated to Channel 2 Investigates, “It's not his emails. It's Jim Murphy's version of his emails."

Two Houston City Council members Channel 2 Investigates asked have concerns.

Council member Dave Martin stating “Then maybe he has to take some of the repercussions from that,” after being reminded that Icken claims it was an accident.

Council member Kubosh said, "It's not believable that an email will automatically delete. It's not credible."

Icken said he was not concerned as to how his responses may be interpreted by an investigator or a prosecutor with the DA’s public integrity officer.

But after Tuesday morning's court appearance by Darian Ward, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Stuart Tallichet had a strong message for public officials, “When people submit request for information from the government, the DA’s office expects them, the government agencies to be transparent.”

Tallichet made it clear there is no difference in the volumes of emails that are not turned over. When Channel 2 Investigates referenced whether it’s one email or 2,000 emails, Tallichet said, “Exactly.”

On Wednesday, following City Council, Turner is expected to hold his first weekly press conference since returning from a trade mission to South America.

Channel 2 Investigates plan to ask the mayor about our investigation into Andy Icken’s emails.