HOUSTON – The Harris County Attorney’s Office told KPRC 2 Thursday that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has been made aware of their findings related to a massive collection of African artwork found in a county-owned maintenance shed that is funded by taxpayers.
County Attorney Melissa Spinks told KPRC 2 they have had at least two in-person meetings with the DA’s office regarding the potential criminality of the finding.
Spinks is helping spearhead the investigation. She said her office is not seeing much transparency from the people involved with the art.
“We are getting some help, but we are not getting all the answers we need,” she said.
The shed is located in Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ precinct and though KPRC 2 has made multiple attempts to speak with Ellis, he has not made himself available for comment.
In January 2018, businessman Sam Njunuri signed an agreement with Harris County to display 14 pieces of African art in county buildings in Harris County Precinct 1 under Ellis. However, Njunuri’s company, African Art Global, was non-existent when KPRC 2 first started asking questions this year and Njunuri has since filed new paperwork to bring his company up-to-date with the state.
Spinks says her team has already identified hundreds of thousands in taxpayers’ dollars spent to modify the shed to store the art.
“Currently we anticipate that the invoices total over $250,000,” she said.
KPRC 2 obtained separate invoices showing $16,000 spent to move art to the shed as well as to prepare it for fumigation. Both bills were paid with taxpayer dollars.
There is still one outstanding question: who actually owns all this valuable artwork?
"There is no paperwork,” Spinks said. She said the collection has grown from 882 pieces documented two years ago, to 1,200 during a recent count.
Darlene Jarrett a grandmother of 12 is interested in the artwork. She said a company Njunuri used to operate owes her nearly $280,000.
“Sam needs to go to jail,” Jarrett said.
After KPRC 2′s first report on the artwork, Jarrett and her attorney Joe Walker sent Harris County and Ellis a notice of claim and a preservation demand for the artwork. The two want to make sure they are paid and that the artwork doesn’t move.
“It was shocking to me that he was doing business with the county with what I knew about him,” Jarrett said.
They are not the only ones determined.
“No matter how difficult the task, we are going to keep going with the investigation because the citizen of Harris County deserve to know,” Spinks said.