Massive private African art collection under control of commissioner Rodney Ellis remains in public shed

Valuable art secretly stored in Harris County shed

HOUSTON – The massive private African art collection inside of a county maintenance shed in Precinct One sits still, two weeks after movers were allowed to start showing up.

When KPRC 2 Investigates approached Commissioner Rodney Ellis on the day county officials planned to move the art, he did not want to comment on the status of the art. He told KPRC 2 to “talk to the county attorney.”

When we reminded Ellis moving day for the art was slated to start on that specific day, and we asked whether or not it had been moved, Ellis said, “I don’t know, but whatever I do it will be in conjunction with the county attorney’s office.”

Since then, the move has been put on hold after KPRC 2 Investigates Sept. 9 report. Ellis’ own team at the time admitted ownership had not been authenticated.

“We’d like for the owner to get it, whoever that is,” said spokesman Bill Miller.

The county attorney’s office and its new leadership told KPRC 2 Investigates no move would be allowed unless it was approved by other agencies.

“We obviously would never do anything related to that artwork without first clearing it with other entities that have an investigation pending,” said Jay Aiyer, first assistant in the county attorney’s office.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit has been investigating the collection since February 2020, according to county officials.

“We have documented the evidence in that matter,” said David Mitcham, first assistant in DA Kim Ogg’s office.

Very little has been said about the art collection and the investigation by the DA’s office, but Mitcham reiterated that they have gathered what they needed.

“We have said there is no opposition because we have documented the evidence,” said Mitcham.

While Ellis is not answering questions about the art and its future, Miller confirmed on Monday they are still awaiting the authentication of the artwork as “some kind of verification of ownership” is required.

Throughout the investigation, there have been questions surrounding the public benefit being provided to the private owner of the art, as no storage fees or taxes have been paid since the art was moved into and cared for inside of the refurbished shed.

When KPRC 2 Investigates asked about the dollars not being collected for storage or taxes and the chances of securing future reimbursement, Aiyer with the county attorney’s office said they are “not looking to recoup anything right now.”

“We are not looking at it that way yet,” Aiyer said.

Aiyer did make it clear there are “irregularities” that they are attempting to “sort through” as there is no paperwork corresponding with the private artwork being stored inside of the county’s shed on the public’s dime.

“We don’t have an agreement for a shed. There is no agreement to place artwork in a shed,” said Aiyer.

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