A former Texas community college board member will spend nearly six years in federal prison for taking more than a quarter of a million dollars in bribes in exchange for using his position as a trustee to help people secure contracts.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore sentenced Chris Oliver, ex-trustee for Houston Community College (HCC), to 70 months, which is just shy of six years, in federal prison following his previous conviction for bribery. Reportedly, Gilmore asked Oliver if his behavior was typical of HCC trustees and if the college was a “cesspool.”
Oliver, 53, served as an elected trustee on the HCC board since 1995. Last year, the feds accused him of taking nearly $90,000 in bribes, a combination of cash and Visa gift cards. Then, a grand jury indicted Oliver on two counts, although, in July, he pleaded guilty to one count of bribery of a public official concerning programs received using federal funds. At the time of his plea, the court learned that Oliver met with another individual on several occasions at various restaurants and coffee shops in Houston. There he accepted cash payments in exchange for promising to use his influence to help that person secure contracts with the college, according to information provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
The bribes involved several individuals and took place over seven years, beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2016. One of these people, Karun Sreerama, formerly owned ESPA CORP, Inc., a company that provided engineering and consulting services to the college. KTRK reported Oliver took around $12,000 from Sreerama.
In the spring of 2017, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner appointed Sreerema as the city’s director of public works and engineering, although, as this graft surfaced during the investigation, Turner placed Sreerema on leave. By July, Sreerema stepped down, insisting he cooperated with the FBI in the matter.
When handing down his sentence Monday, Gilmore detailed 69 bribe payments Oliver received over the seven years totaling more than $225,000 from at least four people seeking HCC contracts, according to the Houston Chronicle. The judge noted Oliver served on the community college’s board for approximately 21 years, telling him that was “too long” given his integrity eroded. Oliver agreed, saying he should not have sought reelection in 2011.
As part of his punishment, the judge ordered him to pay the $12,000 in forfeiture to the FBI. After completing his prison term, Oliver must serve one year of supervised release.
“Public officials who use their position for private gain undermine the integrity of government and erode the public’s trust in the very framework of our democracy. Today’s sentence sends a strong message of the consequences of such actions,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye Turner.
“The FBI stands firm with local, state and federal partners in an unwavering commitment to combat public corruption and hold accountable those who choose to abuse the privilege of serving the American people,” continued Turner.
Following the hearing, the judge allowed Oliver to remain free on bond. He has to voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility on an undisclosed future date.
This FBI conducted this investigation with assistance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General.
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