After the backlash over Houston Community College Trustee Chris Oliver’s bribery indictment, the college has hired counsel for an internal review of their procurement process. However, one of the co-counsel is a political donor to another board trustee, leading some to believe he was brought on to whitewash the situation.

Trustee Dave Wilson went digging into Trustee Zeph Capo’s campaign finance reports and found that the district’s new co-counsel, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Vidal Martinez, donated to Capo and hosted a fundraiser for him following his 2014 election. Martinez has also been a longtime donor to numerous Texas candidates and officeholders. According to the Texas Monitor, Martinez also has taken the board, and spouses, out to lavish multi-course dinners.

“Mr. Martinez hosted, in 2015, when Trustee Capo was board chair, a fund raiser for Mr. Capo after he had already been elected to the board in 2014. That fundraiser was hosted at Mr. Martinez’s home and Chancellor Cesar Maldonado was in attendance (yours truly was not invited). Is this a conflict of interest?” read a post on Wilson’s site.

Martinez’s name is often thrown into the mix when controversy rears its ugly head at the college.

He was also brought on years ago to work on the contract for Maldonado prior to him being hired as the chancellor. Although he was brought on to work for the board, he quickly transitioned roles and began working for the administration. During this time he earned over $200,000, and according to a local paper, “no vote for discussion of [former board chairman] Sane’s decision to hire him ever took place in public.”

Along with those duties, Martinez’s services were also used to guide the district through the public blowback from firing their general counsel, who at the time was working with the FBI to expose corruption.

Oliver has yet to be sentenced and the district’s review is just getting underway. Time will tell if the chancellor and co-counsel will find any areas to address in the district’s procurement process or if attention on the issue will quickly fade with the next news cycle.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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