On Friday, Mayor John Whitmire and outgoing Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced seven people have been indicted for 14 public corruption felonies ranging from abuse of official capacity to tampering with evidence. The charges are related to a scheme surrounding the City of Houston’s water repair contracts.

Patrece Lee, the lead defendant, and a former city employee, had access to $80 million of city funds for emergency waterline repair.

In the Summer and Fall of 2022, Lee was in a position to recommend vendors for contracts with the City of Houston public works department to repair the water lines. Lee allegedly made agreements with companies to have them hire her as a “consultant” to receive a kickback in exchange for expedited payments and bigger contracts. She also targeted less experienced companies and offered her services to help them “get paid faster, or to get bigger and better contracts in the future” as well. 

Lee allegedly received roughly $320,000 in payments from that scheme and then steered contracts to a company owned by her brother, allowing them to be paid more than $400,000 of which she immediately transferred $380,000 to her own company. The total amount she stole from the city was $700,000. 

“The cooperation that we’ve received from this administration stands in stark contrast to the last seven years,” said Ogg.

The issue was uncovered during Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration. However, he planned to have it handled as an internal civil or administrative matter rather than refer it to the district attorney for criminal prosecution. 

“As recently as a couple of weeks ago when we laid out the budget you might notice we didn’t ask for additional revenue although we do have shortfalls because I assured the public that we wouldn’t ask for additional revenue until we could guarantee that we’ve removed conflicts of interest and public corruption,” Whitmire said at the press conference.

He vowed to work with any agency to identify and remove corruption as his administration moves forward. 

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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