Grand Jury Declines to charge Commissioner Rodney Ellis in African Art case

Investigation found standard procedures were not followed in storage of art.

Rodney Ellis will not be indicted for the African Art found stored

Houston – Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis will not face criminal charges over the African artwork stored inside of a precinct maintenance shed. A county grand jury “no-billed” Ellis Thursday morning, according to a letter written by District Attorney Kim Ogg.

The DA’s investigation did find standard procedures were not followed, and while not illegal, “the taxpayers of Harris County deserve to have their taxpayer dollars spent wisely and in a transparent manner,” according to Ogg’s letter.

In a statement to KPRC 2 Investigate, Ellis says he’s glad it’s over, adding, “Nothing there, as I have said the entire time.”

KPRC 2 Investigates first reported on the art being stored inside the maintenance shed in February 2020. The DA’s office started investigating weeks later, according to county officials interviewed at the time. The investigation consisted of thousands of record as well as thousands of hours of video.

In the letter, Ogg references an original art loan agreement for 14 pieces of art from 2017, but writes that an “employee of the Office of Commissioner Precinct One accepted approximately 1,185 additional pieces of African Art.”

Additionally, there was no updated loan agreement in accordance with the Texas Constitution, according to Ogg.

The letter referenced renovations costing more than $326,000 “to protect it and its contents from fire, theft, damage, water, mishandling, dirt, vermin, pests, and extreme changes in light and humidity.” The DA says security cages were put in inside of the art’s storage area.

In a September 2019 email obtained by KPRC 2 Investigates, Ellis – using an email account under the name “Glenn Rodney” – knew he had problems and attempted to clean it up.

In the email, Ellis wrote telling members of his inner circle, “update agreements with Sam in case he does not own all the art. This keeps me up at night. He needs to sign something and notarize it. We need more than just his word.”

The “Sam” in the email is Sam Najunuri, the alleged owner of the private collection. Najunuri also runs African Art Global, a company with past ties to Ellis’ family.

KPRC 2 Analyst Ed Emmett said Ogg’s letter does not address one key part of this investigation -- who is the owner of the art?

“We still don’t know,” said Emmett.

Commissioner Ellis admits ownership is unclear and believes it will be cleared up in the near future.

“I’m delighted,” said Rusty Hardin, one of the attorneys working with Ellis during the course of the investigation. “It was a full and complete investigation and we agree with the grand jury.”

According to Hardin, Ellis never testified before the grand jury and no defense package was presented on his behalf.

The matter has been referred back to the County Attorney’s Office. It is up for them to now “determine where any civil remedies exist to recoup the Office of Commissioner Precinct One expenditure from the owner of the African Art and if so, to pursue such civil remedies.

A spokesperson for the county attorney said they have received the letter and are evaluating it.

Hundreds of pieces of valuable African art secretly stashed in a refurbished Harris County shed is finally being moved to a different location.

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