In case you missed it, Amy Davis at KPRC Channel 2 reported Monday on the City Hall connections to the owner of a towing company recently convicted of running a racket that snared scores of Houstonians.
Richard Gonzalez was selected by the City to participate in its SafeClear Program, which tows stranded drivers off busy roadways. But instead of being a trusted source of assistance in a time of need, Gonzalez bilked unsuspecting motorists out of more than $150,000. He was indicted in 2016 and the City eventually got around to cancelling his contract. 1
In 2014, Gonzalez was also appointed as a board member to one of the City’s management districts. In several appearances at City Council, Council members heaped praise on Gonzalez for his community involvement and business acumen.
But it turns out, there was a dark side to Gonzalez. Prior to the charge on which he was just convicted, he had been charged with numerous other crimes including fraud, theft of more than $20,000 and illegal dumping.
How is it possible for a convicted felon to end up with a lucrative City contract and serving in a fiduciary position? Well, the short answer is he paid for it. Davis found $35,000 of campaign contributions by Gonzalez to current and former City officials, including $10,000 to Turner. However, there’s more. In addition to his contributions, his wife gave another $10,000 to Turner.
Gonzalez was also well connected to the Turner pay-to-play crowd. His sister, Elizabeth Brock, is a lobbyist for Centerpoint, which is both a vendor to, and regulated by the City and a large Turner contributor. Another well-known City lobbyist, airport concessionaire and Turner acolyte, Cindy Clifford, wrote a letter to the judge in Gonzalez’s case urging leniency and calling Gonzalez, “a fine person who has greatly contributed to the Houston community.” Both Brock and Clifford have been appointed to City boards. Turner has received over $25,000 in contributions from Clifford, her family members and employees.
Several of the City officials who received contributions have agreed to donate them to a charity. Turner initially balked at the idea, as he did when I confronted him about his contributions from Houston’s most notorious strip clubs. In a revealing moment, Turner snapped at Davis to “be respectful” when she pressed him for an answer about whether he would return the money (see story at 2:40). Later, Turner said he would contribute the money to Crime Stoppers. No word on the other $10,000 he received from Gonzalez’s wife. I suggest you don’t hold your breath.
Are you sick of this yet? If so, join me in cleaning up City Hall. I have laid out a detailed ethics plan for the City [click here to read]. I have also pledged to close my campaign account after the election and not accept contributions while serving as mayor. 2
Let’s have a City Hall of which we can all be proud. One that serves the interests of Houstonians and not the pay-to-play special interests.
1. More background at https://www.click2houston.com/news/houston-tow-owner-has-political-connections
2. I will only reopen the account if, and when, I decide to run for re-election, but in no event sooner than January 1, 2023.