Former Houston Health Department official pleads guilty to bribery

Former Houston Health Department official pleads guilty to bribery

Barry Barnes, a former well being division administrative and group outreach coordinator, 62, abused his place and took bribes from three corporations in trade for influencing the town’s vendor choice choices, in accordance to a information launch. from the Department of Justice. .

In the plea settlement he signed Thursday, Barnes pleaded guilty to one rely of bribery involving packages that obtained federal funds and admitted to taking no less than $24,200 in kickbacks to assist distributors get contracts and receives a commission. The quantity of the alleged bribes ranged from $900 to $5,500, in accordance to the plea settlement.

Barnes additionally agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors and forfeit no less than $24,200.

“This office has an unwavering commitment to attack public corruption at every level. The people of the Southern District of Texas deserve an environment in which public officials are held to the highest standards,” U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery mentioned within the press launch. “This prosecution ought to ship a transparent message that we are going to discover and we maintain accountable any public official who abuses public belief.

According to investigators, the alleged bribery scheme with one enterprise ran from November 2019 to March 2021. During that point, Barnes accepted a number of money funds totaling no less than $15,000 from the corporate to assist him safe six profitable contracts, together with three involving federal COVID-19. pandemic funds below the town’s emergency buy course of, the Justice Department mentioned.

None of the companies or people concerned had been recognized within the press launch. Court paperwork referred to a contractor solely as “Company A,” however the cost quantities listed in court docket data match metropolis invoices involving a vendor known as Neutral Grey, a branding firm owned by Stephanie Coleman.

The metropolis’s billing doc lists funds to the contractor for $61,800 in October 2020, $85,200 in November 2020, $159,956 in December 2020 and $160,044 in January 2021. City invoices obtained by Chart present quantities and dates that match the these funds. Each was signed by Barnes.

Additionally, the town’s checklist of emergency bills for a July 2020 disbursement features a $474,276 cost to Neutral Gray, which corresponds to the legal criticism’s description of the payments “totaling $474,276 for companies offered to the Houston Health Department “.

$100k in a LOT OF TIME? Dozens of Houston workers doubled their pay by working extra time final 12 months.

Videos and images on-line present that Barnes and Coleman are well-known.

The former well being division worker is featured in Trè Magazine, a publication that lists Coleman as writer. The first episode of a web-based present by Coleman known as “Trè TV,” which was launched in June 2021, featured Barnes and his Health Department supervisor, Marlene McNeese, as hosts.

In November 2021, Barnes shared images on Facebook of a brunch gathering with individuals together with McNeese, “my pro queen who gives me life just by knowing,” and Coleman, “a lady of many tools.” That identical month, Barnes and Coleman appeared on KHOU 11 collectively to talk about weekend occasions within the metropolis.

According to the charging doc, Barnes expressed his “financial difficulties and continued need for financial assistance” to the proprietor of Company A round November 2019. The proprietor was conscious of Barnes’ job duties and supplied cash upon request, however solely requested to pay after he had facilitated invoice funds for the seller, the doc mentioned.

Meanwhile, Barnes bragged on Instagram about getting a brand new automotive in December 2020 and shopping for a brand new residence the next 12 months in December 2021. Records from the Harris County Appraisal District present that Barnes turned a house owner from 1,446 sq. ft in South Houston, final assessed at $289,444 on December 13, 2021.

Attempts to attain Coleman had been unsuccessful.

FBI personnel leave the Houston Health Department carrying boxes, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Houston.

FBI personnel go away the Houston Health Department carrying bins, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Houston.

Marie D. De Jesús, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

According to the Justice Department, Barnes additionally admitted to choosing one other contractor for the well being division’s promoting companies in December 2020 and receiving a portion of the funds — about $5,000 — in return.

Investigators additional cited a January 2021 incident through which Barnes allegedly accepted a $5,000 bribe to assist a 3rd enterprise obtain a cost from the town for promoting companies, the Justice Department launch mentioned.

Barnes had been an worker of the town’s well being division since 2006. The metropolis positioned him on administrative go away in February after an FBI search of the well being division constructing that very same month.

“Mr. Barnes is no longer affiliated with the city of Houston,” Mary Benton, Turner’s director of communications, mentioned in an emailed assertion. “It is the responsibility of every employee to follow policies and procedures and to comply with the law.”

Michael Wynne, Barnes’ lawyer, beforehand said that his consumer “maintains that he has followed all the regulations, the letter of the law and has done a fantastic job promoting the health department.”

In an emailed assertion Thursday, Wynne mentioned “Mr. Barnes has been a loyal and hardworking public servant for many years.”

“He remains strong and is grateful to his friends and family for their continued love and support,” Wynne mentioned. “Once this is over, he will find other channels through which to serve the community and the people of this great city. This has been an unfortunate and unfortunate sequence of events.”

Barnes faces up to 10 years in jail and a high quality of up to $250,000. His sentencing is scheduled for January 26, 2023.

He stays free on bail.

Barnes is the second former metropolis worker to plead guilty in reference to a bribery scheme in current months. In August, William-Paul Thomas, a former prime aide to Mayor Sylvester Turner, resigned after pleading guilty to conspiring to settle for a money bribe in trade for altering the classification of a bar to a restaurant, which allowed the bar to keep open longer in the course of the COVID-19 restrictions.

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