Houston Health Department official accepted bribes from companies

An official with the City of Houston pleaded guilty to bribery on Thursday.

Barry Barnes, 66, was the former administrative and community outreach coordinator for the Houston Health Department (HHD). Records say he pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from three businesses in exchange for getting the company selected to perform jobs for the HHD.

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"This office has an unyielding commitment to attack public corruption at any level. The people of the Southern District of Texas deserve an environment in which public officials are held to the highest standards," said U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery. "This prosecution should send a clear message that we will find and hold accountable any public official who abuses the public trust."

According to investigators, between November 2019 to March 2021, Barnes was involved in a kickback scheme with a business owner. He used his position in HHD to have the business selected under the emergency purchase order process.

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Records say Barnes submitted invoices to ensure the person at the business was paid for six lucrative marketing, advertising, and media contracts. This included three service contracts related to the pandemic that federal COVID-19 relief funded.

In exchange, he received cash payments from January 2020 to February 2021.

In his plea agreement, Barnes admitted in December 2020 he chose another business owner for advertising services for the HHD. He received a portion of the funds in return.

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Officials say he did the same scheme again in January 2021 for another business where he got a kickback for helping the business owner obtain disbursement from the City of Houston for advertisement services performed for the HHD.

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Mary Benton, the Director of Communications for the Office of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, "Mr. Barnes is no longer affiliated with the City of Houston. It is the responsibility of every employee to follow policies and procedures and adhere to the law."

Barnes pleaded guilty to bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and could face up to 10 years in prison with a possible fine of $250,000 maximum. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake will impose sentencing Jan. 26, 2023.

He was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing. The FBI - Houston Field Office conducted the investigation.