A bribery allegation has one Houston official in hot water and on a leave of absence

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks with the media during a business forum in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. The forum was attended by business representatives from Houston and Havana, to explore opportunities in areas of health, sports, energy, commerce and art, according to local state-run media Cubadebate. (Ismael Francisco, Cubadebate via AP)

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Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner placed Public Works and Engineering Director Karun Sreerama on administrative leave with pay. Court records revealed Sreerama’s alleged involvement with a Houston Community College trustee indicted on bribery charges. In an emailed statement, Mayor Turner wrote that his office would “review the entire matter” stemming from the federal grand jury indictment.

Houston Community College trustee Chris Oliver was indicted on one count of bribery and one count of extortion in federal court earlier this week. Oliver pleaded guilty to the bribery charge. Court documents from the indictment allege that Sreerama was involved in making payments to Oliver.

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Court documents allege that Sreerama paid more than $77,000 to Oliver. Chip Lewis Sreerama’s attorney, claims that Oliver approached his client three times asking for money. Lewis also said that his client made the payments believing that his company would be out of the running to receive contracts with HCC if he did not make the payments.

Lewis disclosed details regarding three meetings between Sreerama and Oliver. According to Lewis, the initial meeting between the two saw Sreerama loan Oliver a substantial amount to help Oliver go through his divorce, and that Oliver never repaid the loan. Lewis said that the second meeting saw Oliver ask Sreerama for money to help him adopt a child. At the third meeting, Sreerama allegedly agreed to hire Oliver’s company to clean up a strip mall Sreerama owned.

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Mayor Turner said that he was unaware of the federal bribery case until this week, and made the decision to place Sreerama on leave until the matter could be resolved. He said that he discussed the matter with Sreerama when the indictment was made public and told him that he didn’t want the director to “operate under a cloud.” However, Mayor Turner did express his confidence in Sreerama and that he would “look forward to his return.”

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