KPRC 2 Investigates: How much did Houston leaders know about convicted city council relations director’s dealings with private businessman?

Former Harris County Prosecutor: ‘We’re not hearing a response that makes sense.’

HOUSTON – Following the federal conviction of former City Council Relations Director William-Paul Thomas for conspiracy tied to bribes, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told residents, “I am surprised out of the revelation here because it is out of character.”

Since Mayor Turner’s news conference at City Hall, KPRC 2 Investigates exposed more of Thomas’ secret dealings outside of his scope of work at the city council in a report first broadcast on KPRC 2+ back on Aug. 24.

Since then, there have been questions about whether or not Mayor Turner and his administration were really in the dark.

Our investigation focused on Thomas’ work inside the Houston Airports system. City emails KPRC 2 Investigates obtained through a Texas Public Information Act Request showed Thomas working against the city to assist private businessman Jason Yoo in an effort to eliminate hefty fines, and “liquidated damages,” as the city called them. The penalties were levied by the city’s airports system against Yoo for breaking his concessionaire contract regarding the opening of food operations at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

When it came to emails concerning Yoo and his business at the airport, high-level city directors Mario Diaz, Andy Icken, and the Mayor’s Chief of Staff Marvelette Hunter were CC’d.

Even Mayor Turner asked questions after Yoo emailed him informing the Mayor, and along with Yoo’s business partner, that not only was he four months behind in rent, but he also was requesting for it to be waived.

When KPRC 2 asked the City’s Development Officer Andy Icken if Yoo ever reached out to the Mayor about his concession situation, Icken said, “I have no idea,” even though he was copied on a thread, including Yoo’s email where the Mayor asked, “What is the status with these concessionaires?”

In the Thomas and Yoo email investigation first reported last month, both men requested from Yoo’s partner and Director Diaz that hundreds of thousands in penalties be wiped clean, according to city emails. Sure enough, after Thomas sent an email request, the airport director eventually canceled nearly $761,000 in fines.

SEE ALSO: Emails show a top city of Houston director had history of working outside of City Hall in favor of airport businessman

When we asked Houston Airports System Director Mario Diaz (no relation to the KPRC 2 Investigator) if he was involved in the canceling of fees, the airport’s director punted to a TPIA request, “You have submitted emails. We thank you for that. You’ll get a response,” said Diaz before closing his vehicle door on us.

As for Mayor Turner? We did catch up with him at City Hall, asking if he made any inquiries into Yoo and his financial status out at the airport. “I, not beyond the comments I made two years ago on that Mario,” said Turner.

Since the Mayor brought it up, let’s go back to our 2020 private land deal investigation. The nearly $350 million deal that was never done.

However, before everything went belly up, the Mayor’s inner circle was presented an offer from Jason Yoo on behalf of the deal’s investors. Yoo stated $500,000 from the commission of the deal to the Mayor’s charity of choice if the Mayor could help get it done. The offer was emailed to Thomas and Icken.

Turner knew about the email in Feb. 2020 because KPRC 2 Investigates told him about it.

“The email, when I saw it yesterday, based on what you presented, the email was inappropriate,” said Turner following a city council session.

SEE ALSO: Investigation: Mayor’s office received $500K offer asking mayor to help close private land deal

However, William-Paul Thomas, who was shadowing the Mayor as he described the email as “inappropriate,” stayed at city hall for another two years. Thomas abruptly left the city a few weeks ago after he pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy tied to bribes catching his boss and those around him by surprise.

City records show emails with six figures from Yoo to Thomas were not one-offs.

On Aug. 30, KPRC Investigates reported on an email titled, “Your son” sent from Yoo to Thomas referencing a $100,000 scholarship for Thomas’ son.

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SEE ALSO: Investigates: Emails show city council relations director, William-Paul Thomas, had close communication with private businessman

After the report, we asked Turner if he was ever made aware of the scholarship email. The Mayor’s response, “No I’m not aware.”

However, city records provided to us by the Mayor’s office show the city’s communications director did send Turner a thread referencing the scholarship email.

After the emails showing one thing and the Mayor telling us of another, we spoke with former Harris County prosecutor Angela Weltin.

“We’re not hearing a response that makes sense,” said Weltin.

Weltin spent time as the Chief of the Public Integrity Division at the District Attorney’s office. After reviewing city emails and comments made by city leadership, she believes the Mayor has more to explain.

“He should look into the only emails he provided to you and take a look and explain what this situation is. If it’s all above board, then there should be answers for that.”

KPRC 2 Investigates did reach back to the mayor’s office asking for another interview with Turner and Icken. They declined, pointing back to the responses from 2020 when we first made the mayor’s team aware of what we uncovered and nearly two years before the federal conviction of Thomas.

The mayor’s team at the time told us, “Mr. Thomas has never negotiated on behalf of Jason Yoo or any other HAS business client.”

The city also claimed, “William-Paul Thomas never saw the email in question until it was shared with him by the City’s Communications Office.”

About the Author:

Journalistic bulldog focused on accountability and how government is spending your dollars. Husband to Wonder Woman, father to a pitcher and two Cavapoos. Prefers queso over salsa.