HOUSTON – Houston City Controller Chris Brown is calling for the Office of Inspector General to open an investigation into the manner in which Houston Airports System Director Mario Diaz settled liquidated damages with a concessionaire and their partner, who has ties to former Director City Council Relations William Paul Thomas, who was convicted in federal court back in July for conspiracy tied to bribes.
Brown is calling for an investigation by the City of Houston’s OIG, but he’s not the only one talking to KPRC 2 Investigates.
Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, Ryan Patrick says others should be asking questions about the city admitting they have no records with the legal department for any cancellation or settlement of liquidated damages done within the Houston Airports System.
”What is the point of not involving the city attorney’s office? Is that a gift, is it an oversight, is it some sort of pay for play,” said Patrick in an interview near City Hall.
Patrick’s questions revolve around the cancellation of $761,000 in fines and penalties involving an airport concessionaire for failing to meet contractual obligations.
HAS Director Mario Diaz (no relation to KPRC 2′s Investigator Mario Diaz) canceled the fines for SSP America and Jason Yoo in a settlement that the city admits they have no records for.
The city’s legal department, which was required to be included in such a settlement according to a former HAS executive, made the admission to the state’s attorney general.
“Anytime you have any of these types of liquidated damages, that is something that goes through legal. Controller Brown is the city’s financial watchdog. He also has been watching our investigation closely and feels the city was owed dollars. This is money that essentially we would be getting from the city, but obviously, those fees were waived so the city did not get them,” says Brown.
The city was expecting the funds as part of contractual agreements because Yoo and his partners had been invoiced according to airport records.
Yoo, through his attorney Kent Schaefer, has declined to comment during our investigation.
Director Diaz also has not commented directly to on-camera questions.
”The question is, why do you not want to involve the city attorney when that is what the rule is?,” said Patrick who went on to add, “Probably it’s been done before, but why not do it this time?”
Patrick says the ultimate question of ‘Why?’ should be investigated for the potential of “Gifting of Public Funds” which is a Texas statute.
“I think it definitely warrants questions and warrants further investigation, particularly if the city attorney’s office says, ‘I don’t know anything about it,’” said Patrick.
As far as those asking the questions, Patrick says it could be the Texas Rangers or prosecutors from the Harris County DA’s office or the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The Mayor’s office says there is an active OIG investigation underway involving Thomas and his actions.
Mayor Sylvester Turner made that point clear following the conviction of Thomas.
However, we have yet to hear back from the mayor’s office or city legal as to how Houstonians will be made aware of the OIG findings.