From the inbox, a Friday afternoon special:
Statement by Mayor Sylvester Turner on city Public Works and Engineering director
“Karun Sreerama has accomplished much in Houston as a businessman and involved citizen. I am sure he will continue to be an asset to our community. However he and I have agreed that it would be best for the city for him to step down as director of the city Public Works and Engineering Department.
“Carol Haddock will continue to serve as acting director until I choose a new director.”
According to a transcript released Thursday in the case against Oliver, Sreerama allegedly paid the HCC trustee about $12,000 in cash and Visa gift cards between June 2015 and February 2016 in exchange for Oliver’s influence over HCC contracts.
Oliver pleaded guilty to bribery in connection with accepting the more recent payments totaling $12,000, court records show, and in exchange the acting U.S. attorney agreed to dismiss the separate extortion charge tied to Sreerama’s earlier payments totaling $77,143.
Sreerama’s attorney Chip Lewis said federal authorities directed Sreerama to pay Oliver the $12,000 in 2015 and 2016 after confronting Sreerama about his earlier, independent payments to the trustee.
“What he was doing was created, directed and funded by the FBI,” Lewis said. “Karun was a cooperating witness as a result of being a victim of Oliver’s scheme.”
Sreerama, identified as “K.S.” in Oliver’s indictment and re-arraignment transcript, wrote three checks to Oliver between late 2010 and mid-2013 in response to the trustee’s solicitations, Lewis said.
As Lewis described the payments, the first two were made because Oliver claimed he was going through a costly divorce, and then claimed he needed funds to complete the process of adopting a child. Both payments were presented as loans and were not repaid. The third payment took the form of an exorbitant fee Oliver charged after his company cleaned the parking lot at Sreerama’s business.
“By the time we get to the third payment and he hadn’t been repaid the loans, Karun became worried that saying, ‘No, no I’ve got somebody who already does the cleaning, etc.’ could adversely affect his position down the road,” Lewis said.
Federal authorities confronted Sreerama in March 2015, a year and a half after he made that final payment, and asked for his cooperation in their investigation, Lewis said.
Two months later – at the FBI’s behest, Lewis said – Sreerama began a series of meetings with Oliver that lasted through May 2016.
The FBI declined to comment to the Chron, so we just have attorney Lewis’ word for all of this, which is also the reason why Sreerama was apparently unable to tell the Mayor about it. I’d still like to hear Sreerama say in his own words why he did what he did, but it seems unlikely that will ever happen. I do hope there are no more shoes to drop. Whatever the case, this was the right outcome.