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Investigation ramps up into African art stashed in tax-payer funded shed in Harris County

HOUSTON – Law enforcement officials are ramping up their investigation into a stash of African artwork that is being stored on the Harris County taxpayers’ dime.

“Who has the keys to all this,” KPRC 2 asked Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis’s team earlier this year. The shed is in Ellis’ precinct but he wasn’t talking.

“The buck stops with you, sir? What do you have to say to Harris County taxpayers about this?” asked KPRC 2 investigator Mario Diaz.

Since then, Ellis has spoken out, claiming it’s a simple misunderstanding involving a small amount of art.

“We got a few pieces,” explained Ellis during a Truth2Power Facebook Live in April. “We worked up an agreement with him. We didn’t dot all of the I’s and cross all of the T’s but sometimes that happens.”

However, Ellis did dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s in a 2018 Commissioner’s Court contract. The contract KPRC 2 dug up was only for 14 pieces of art from a man with ties to Ellis’ family. There are thousands of pieces of artwork in the shed.

“My sister told me, sister-in-law he has a great collection of African art,” explained Ellis during his interview with Dr. Candice Matthews.

However, no mention has been made anywhere of the plans for a costly makeover at the shed, fumigation of the massive art stash or even the cost of warehousing it.

County investigation?

“We have to get rid of special treatments for special groups,” said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg on July 31. Her comments came minutes after she announced the indictments of former HPD officers embroiled in the botched Harding Street raid.

County officials told KPRC 2 that grand jury subpoenas for information and testimony tied to the findings at the shed have been sent out by the DA’s Public Corruption Unit. Ogg did not confirm or deny the investigation.

“I assure you that the District Attorney’s Office is as interested in public corruption in elected office as it is in the police department as it is in any private industry where it might exist,” said Ogg.

The FBI has also requested information into the artwork as well. Meanwhile, Ellis’ team is not providing the identities of the people Ellis personally brought into the shed.

Attorney hired

Ellis has hired attorney Chris Feldman to help sort everything out.

“I’ve gotten Chris Feldman, an attorney, to go review it to see what recommendations he can put in place,” Ellis told KPRC 2.

Feldman confirms he was retained to work solely on the art shed situation. Yet Ellis appears to be paying for Feldman’s services through his campaign according to the commissioner’s latest finance report.

About $45,000 has been paid to Feldman since March 10, for what is described as, “legal services to the campaign.”

Feldman confirmed to KPRC 2 that his work surrounding the art shed is being paid with campaign dollars secured by Ellis from donors. Feldman said his work is considered an “officeholder expenditure,” even though it is listed as “legal services to the campaign” in the report.