Another saga comes to an end.
Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole pleaded guilty this morning in federal court to a felony charge of making a false statement to FBI agents.
The charge carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In exchange for the guilty plea and for Eversole’s announcement last week that he would resign from office, prosecutors dropped charges of conspiracy, bribery and two counts of filing false income tax statements.
The Department of Justice had alleged Eversole took nearly $100,000 in cash and gifts from co-defendant Mike Surface in exchange for steering lucrative county contracts to companies in which Surface had an interest.
A mistrial was declared in the case earlier this year following a hung jury. A retrial had been scheduled to begin next month. Throughout, Eversole had denied wrongdoing, and his attorneys have characterized the government’s corruption case as criminalizing a friendship.
“All the allegations by the government that he ever did anything improper in the conduct of his office were dismissed. Every single count, every single allegation that has to do with the performance of his office were dismissed today and they’re gone forever,” said Rusty Hardin, Eversole’s attorney. “There is nothing in his statement of facts that says he ever did anything in his office in return for anything or was influenced in any way.”
I suppose that means something, but whatever. All I can say is that it’s about time.
Surface also took a plea.
In a statement of facts read before the court, Surface admitted to giving Eversole gifts in an attempt to influence him. There was no such clause in Eversole’s statement of facts.
Surface pleaded guilty to one count of filing a false income tax return, which carries up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine. In exchange, conspiracy and bribery charges were dropped.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner accepted Eversole and Surface’s guilty pleas at 10:35 a.m. A sentencing date has been set for Jan. 4, 2012.
Federal sentencing guidelines place the sentence at between zero and six months for both men, served in any combination of incarceration, probation or home confinement Hittner chooses, said Andy Drumheller, an attorney for Eversole.
As part of the pleas, Eversole is barred from seeking elected or appointed office for 10 years; Surface is barred from seeking contracts with the city of Houston and Harris County for five years.
Later Friday, Surface also pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal agents in another public corruption trial; his lawyer Chip Lewis said the two pleas “are wired together.” Surface, along with codefendant Andrew Schatte, had been charged with conspiracy and mail fraud. Those charges against Surface have been dropped.
Good riddance and shame on both of them. We deserve better from our elected officials and those who do business with our government.
In other news, Judge Ed Emmett will announce Eversole’s successor on Monday morning. A list of potential recipients of the golden ticket are at that link. Whoever it is, I expect there’s a 100% chance he or she will face a contested primary next March. Nobody will have that much time to raise money, so it ought to be quite the scramble. Have sweet dreams over the weekend, y’all, because Monday all but one of you are going to wake up.
UPDATE: Robert Miller takes a guess at who the next Commissioner will be.