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Aiyer takes a plea

I was pretty sure that this would be the ultimate outcome.

Houston Community College Trustee Jay Aiyer pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of tampering with a governmental record Thursday and received a year of probation.

Aiyer, one-time candidate for Houston City Council, also must fulfill 160 hours of community service and pay a $750 fine. He also is prohibited from working on any political campaigns during his probation.

Aiyer, 38, a lawyer and former chief of staff for former Mayor Lee Brown, has served as an HCC trustee since 2001.

“I’m glad we were able to resolve this quickly. I look forward to practicing law and spending time with my family,” Aiyer said.

He said he had not given any thought to whether he will keep his seat on the HCC board.

Aiyer originally was charged with a state jail felony, but pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor to avoid a trial.

“It made sense to make peace,” Aiyer’s lawyer, Dennis Cain, said. “It could have had a massive impact on his future had he pleaded to a felony. It doesn’t make sense to risk that kind of exposure. He wanted to put it behind him.”

It’s also a huge financial burden to defend oneself against a felony charge. Whatever the merits of the charges against Aiyer – and I have no idea one way or the other – the downside to fighting it out is huge. You’d have to be pretty non-risk-averse to go for it. As I said before, Jay is a friend of mine, and I hate that this has happened to him. I sincerely hope he does put this behind him.

Couple points that I feel need to be mentioned.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office accused Aiyer of committing the offense by removing and destroying a portion of his campaign finance report and putting another document in its place in March 2005.

The charge stemmed from a complaint filed with the Texas Ethics Commission more than two years ago. The complaint accused Aiyer of trying to hide expenditures from his HCC campaign account, failing to report payments to political consultants and failing to itemize credit card payments.

The commission referred the complaint to the district attorney’s office in April 2006.

Why did it take the DA so long to act on this? I’m not having any luck finding a citation for this, but doesn’t the greater-than-two-year time span between the alleged offense and the filing of the charge mean that the statute of limitations would have run out for a misdemeanor offense? I have to wonder what might have happened if the specter of a felony conviction had not been hanging over Aiyer’s head. That’s something you do fight.

There may be nothing to that line of thinking – again, we don’t know that much about the actual case. But this is pretty egregious:

“This isn’t the end of his problems,” said Donna Goode, the division chief over the district attorney’s public integrity unit. “He still has to deal with the State Bar, he still has issues with the Texas Ethics Commission and a decision has to be made by trustees about whether this disqualifies him from serving.”

Aiyer did not attend Thursday’s monthly HCC board meeting. Christopher Oliver, chairman of the board, said it was not clear how Aiyer’s plea would affect his service on the board.

Aiyer’s term is up at the end of this year. HCC often is viewed as a political springboard and Aiyer’s political future once seemed limitless.

Under state law, a person convicted of a felony is barred from public office, unless he or she since had been pardoned.

“I don’t know if it’s a disqualification,” Goode said of Aiyer’s sentence. “It’s certainly something an opponent wouldn’t have to go very far to dredge up and use against you.”

Is it really appropriate for a member of the DA’s office to be speculating in public about the potential ramifications of one of its cases? Because if we’re going to bring up politics, Chuck Rosenthal and his people have a very spotty history. From the ludicrously weak perjury case they brought against former Police Chief CO Bradford, which ended in a directed verdict of not guilty by the trial judge, to their no-billing of Steven Hotze on a DUI charge, to their refusal to investigate Texans for True Mobility, the DA has been pretty consistent in who he chooses to go after, and who he does not. Again, without knowing all the details, I can’t say for sure that Aiyer’s case fits the pattern. But you’d be naive to not be at least a little suspicious.

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  1. anonymous says:

    And let’s not forget the widely rumored investigation of a certain Republican, term-limited Member of City Council — where is that indictment?

    And how is it that a certain other City Council Member knew about Aiyer’s indictment before it happened, and was giddily telling folks around City Hall about it?

    Finally, why, if this was such a grave, serious case against Aiyer, did Rosenthal’s office so quickly negotiate a plea. If they had such a strong case, wouldn’t they have wanted to convict him and send a message?

    Something just doesn’t make sense about all this.

  2. Charles Hixon says:

    Life is a heck of alot easier when you abide by the law. The caliber of your friends is one notch higher and you are not consuming tax dollars on government babysitting services.

  3. Kevin Whited says:

    It’s also a huge financial burden to defend oneself against a felony charge. Whatever the merits of the charges against Aiyer – and I have no idea one way or the other – the downside to fighting it out is huge. You’d have to be pretty non-risk-averse to go for it.

    Come on.

    This is a guy who was thought to have a future in politics. There’s no way you cop a plea to something like this unless there is some “there” there. It’s political suicide. But it beats a guilty verdict to be sure, which potentially does more damage to your life (and your family) than just ending your fledgling political career. So there’s a “risk averse” consideration for ya!

    Jay Aiyer’s political supporters have one person to blame for this, and that would be the guy who apparently altered public documents illegally and then copped a plea for the crime. Thrashing about at political opponents really doesn’t change that fact.

    Of course, perhaps you have some evidence that Chuck Rosenthal masqueraded as Aiyer and set him up? They don’t look much alike, though, so I have my doubts about that one. 😀