HOUSTON – Nearly two years after members of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s inner circle received an email offering $500,000 contingent on the mayor helping close a private land deal, Turner gave the man behind that email a proclamation. Turner claims he first became aware of the email offer this week.
“This is forever your day in the city of Houston,” Turner said last summer during Jason Yoo’s 70th birthday.
Turner touted Yoo’s credentials telling the room, “there is no question you are an outstanding business person.”
Yoo, who has done business with the city for years, even appeared in Turner’s campaign ad last fall.
At the birthday celebration, Turner called on Andy Icken and William Paul Thomas to honor Yoo as well.
"William Paul, Andy stand up,” he said. Watch the full video here.
The two men are now at the center of a KPRC 2 Investigates report on what law enforcement experts say was the offer of a bribe.
In 2017, Yoo asked Icken and Thomas to get Turner’s help to land and close a private real estate deal involving the BP headquarters on the city’s Westside for $348 million. Yoo asked for Turner to talk with the “CEO of BP” to see if they would work with Yoo and his partners, the email read.
Yoo wrote, “I will donate $500,000 to city or other charity firms that Mayor wants,” which he said would be contingent on the deal going through.
"You distance yourself from somebody who is sending an email like that. That clearly didn’t happen, in this case. If anything, he was embraced,” said former federal prosecutor Michael Wynne.
Ken Magidson is the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas and the former Harris County County District Attorney.
“I think it’s raised to a level that I would pass this information onto the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Magidson said.
On Tuesday, Channel 2 Investigates asked the Mayor’s office about the August 2017 email that offered $500,000 to a charity for the deal. A day later, following a city council meeting, Turner said, “the email was inappropriate."
Wynne says “charity” is a word he has seen in past public corruption cases.
“Charity is a code to me. Of course, you’re foolish to put this in an email to begin with, but if you are going to put it in an email, you try and couch it in some term so it could look like something else," he said.
Last year, “charity” was an alibi used in the federal indictments of defendants in the national collegiate bribing scandal as well as a federal case rocking Dallas City Hall.
In Wednesday night’s report, Mark Stephens, a former member of HPD’s defunct Public Integrity Unit told Channel 2 Investigates, “They should immediately open an investigation.”
Mayor Turner’s office on Thursday evening said there were no plans to alert authorities to the email or turn it over. Turner’s team said it is a public document, which means it is available upon request only.
With no action being taken thus far, it appears as though Thomas and Icken will not face disciplinary action. The Mayor’s office claims the offer was never entertained and no one acted on it. KPRC 2’s investigation has clearly shown otherwise.
Read the emails
KPRC 2′s Tulsi Kamath and Bryan Luhn contributed to this report.