City controller accused of secretly profiting from land deal with city

As the elected Controller, Chris Brown is Houston's financial watchdog - a watchdog that apparently no one at City Hall was watching very closely.

Documents obtained by FOX 26 News indicate a local developer who obtained a low interest, $3.5 million loan through the City's Housing and Community Development Department used the proceeds to purchase Commerce Street property owned by Brown.

The final price tag was $5.6 million - a 60 percent premium over the County's appraised value.

It was a big payday for Brown, but also a big potential problem because the City's “financial watchdog” never disclosed to City Council he stood to profit from the publicly funded deal.

Council Member Mike Knox recalls that when it came time to vote on funding for construction of the 120 low income east side housing units in October of 2018, there was no indication Controller Brown was involved in the project and stood to reap millions on the deal.

Four other council members reached by FOX 26 confirmed Knox's account and expressed alarm.

"It cries out deception. It cries out misdeed. It cries out, this was not above board and I think the administration should have caught it and I think Chris Brown should have told us about this and to slip this by is just unconscionable, in my opinion," said Knox adding, "This is a serious and egregious malfeasance of duty and responsibility."

Declining an on camera interview, Brown instead issued a statement.

“Prior to my father’s passing, he asked that our family sell the property in East Downtown for senior affordable housing. My involvement with the transaction was limited to the sale of that property. I sought and obtained a legal opinion confirming there were no conflicts with my involvement in this transaction. I also filed all disclosures required by law."

Orlando Sanchez, who is challenging Brown in the upcoming City election, says he believes the Controller didn't disclose because he knew City Council would spike a very profitable deal.

"I think it’s a breach of the public trust, at minimum, at worst it could be criminal. This gentleman was allegedly lining his pockets with the public's money," said Sanchez.

Brown's critics say the Controller audited the Housing and Community Development Department giving him access to inside financial information prior to the controversial land deal.

Knox, Sanchez and others say the City Charter strictly prohibits elected officials from profiting, directly or indirectly, off business transactions involving the City.