Mayor Turner's 2017 endorsement letter for highly-paid intern uncovered

By Mario Diaz - Reporter

HOUSTON - On Monday, KPRC 2 Investigates dropped a bombshell, exposing a one-of-a-kind, publicly funded internship that paid a 31-year-old man $95,000 annually.

On Tuesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner released a response to the investigation. In Turner's statement, he admitted to knowing Marvin Agumagu before he was offered the internship, despite the fact that, last week, KPRC 2 investigative reporter Mario Diaz asked Turner in person twice if he knew Agumagu, and the mayor responded, "I have no idea who you are talking about."

Turner said in his statement that KPRC 2's Mario Diaz's question "caught me off guard as I was rushing to another scheduled city event."

KPRC 2 Investigates clearly asked about Marvin Agumagu on two occasions, and Turner denied any knowledge of Agumagu both times.

READ: Mayor responds to KPRC 2 investigation on intern paid nearly $100K annually

Agumagu was offered a position as the first candidate for the airport's Executive Internship program. Agumagu was given the salary of a senior staff analyst -- $95,000 a year with benefits. Turner signed off on the position in October 2018. Turner, in his statement, said there are "94 Senior Staff Analysts positions in the City of Houston, of which 15 are at the Executive Level. The current salary range for Senior Staff Analysts is $74,256 - $131,325."

READ: Why did the city of Houston hire a $95,000 intern?

Two Houston mayoral candidates called for an investigation of the internship.

READ: Houston mayoral candidates call for investigation into high-paid city internship

The investigation begs a variety of questions, including: Who is Agumagu and why was he paid so much?

KPRC 2's Mario Diaz took a look at the man being paid nearly $100,000 of public money annually.

How well did Turner know Agumagu before signing off on his publicly funded $95,000 internship?

In April 2017, Turner wrote a letter on city letterhead, endorsing Agumagu for a position within the student bar at Texas Southern University's law school.

Below is a photo of the letter.

In the letter, Turner wrote, "As a council aide working in City Hall, I've had the opportunity to get to know Marvin personally."

The Mayor also wrote, "As Mayor, I've experienced Marvin's professionalism in different capacities. From attending various functions around town and representing the city, in addition to participating in executive-level meetings and committees."

Did the city ever post the $95,000 internship?

The short answer is: No.

Houston Airport System Director Mario Diaz asked to reclassify an existing airport job and turn it into an executive-level position. The move allowed the city to avoid posting the position to the public. The Mayor's Office told KPRC 2, "By City Charter, a Director has the autonomy to reclassify a position and request a waiver or posting for an Executive Level action in lieu of the competitive posting process."

Turner's signature is what officially created this internship.

Should Agumagu have been eligible for an internship?

According to Houston-based employment attorney Todd Slobin, Agumagu should not have been eligible for an internship with the City of Houston.

"If this person has a bachelor's degree and has a law degree, he is not, in my opinion, eligible for an internship anywhere," Slobin said.

After examining what KPRC 2 Investigates uncovered, Slobin said, "It seems clear to me that this opportunity was created specifically for this individual so that they could be paid a salary and receive a sweetheart deal with the city."

Turner reversed course on knowing Agumagu, but what else did he have to say about the investigation?

Turner was spirited and brief in his reaction to the report Tuesday morning at City Hall.

"I look forward to speaking on it, and KPRC has intentionally left out key information. That is disappointing. I am very disappointed at KPRC," Turner said.

"What information was that, Mayor?" Turner was asked.

"A lot of it," Turner responded.

What's next?

The City Council will meet Wednesday morning.

Turner routinely has a weekly news conference following each session.

KPRC 2 Investigates plans to be there and get answers to our investigation. If we don't get answers there, then we will see Turner on Wednesday night following the debate in the post-debate spin room.

KPRC 2 Investigates looks forward to having a formal interview with Turner.

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