Former Houston employee, others face charges stemming from waterline repair, inspection contracts

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office announced criminal public corruption charges stemming from City of Houston waterline repair and inspection contracts.

Officials say a total of 14 charges have been filed against seven people, including former City of Houston employee Patrece Lee.

Court records show Lee is charged with abuse of official capacity and bribery.

"At least $750,000 went into the pockets of Patrece Lee her brother and others," said Harris County DA Kim Ogg.

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In August of 2020, 45-year-old Patrece Lee was promoted to Public Works maintenance manager.

She had access to an $80 million emergency fund for waterline breaks and inspections.

According to court documents, Lee had vast discretion to recommend companies for the City of Houston contracts to repair city water lines. Lee is accused of soliciting bribes and kickbacks totaling over $320,000.

"In the summer and fall of 2022, Patrece Lee and at least two businessmen came up with a scheme to essentially put her on the payroll as a consultant for the very same companies that were getting contracts and doing business with her department with the city," said Assistant DA Mike Levine. 

Investigators say in return for the so-called consulting fees vendors paid, Lee gave them favorable treatment faster payment, and bigger deals with the city.

"Eventually Patrece Lee found two more defendants willing to enter into a similar scheme and finally along with her brother formed a shell company to help her divert over $400,000 of city money to herself," Levine said.

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Others charged in the alleged scheme include Lee's brother 31-year-old Andrew Travis Thomas and another former public works employee 33-year-old Danielle Hurts.

The owners of four businesses Lee gave contracts to are also criminally charged.

"Because the same people were handling the repairs on an emergency basis the inspection on an emergency basis and the delivery of contracts to certain vendors all of the normal checks and balances were averted," Ogg said.

"Houston has a shortfall in its financial budget," said Mayor John Whitmire. "We can not ask for additional money until we can assure every dollar is honestly used to run city government."

"Not knowing which repairs were good and which were bad may be a problem we continue to pay for as taxpayers," said Ogg.