City of Houston director of public works resigns amid bribery scandal, says he’s being punished for good deed

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HOUSTON -- City of Houston Director of Public Works Karun Sreerama has stepped down amid allegations of his involvement in a bribery scheme, but Sreerama says he wants to clear his name and make the public know -- he is no criminal.

According to authorities, Houston Community College Trustee Chris Oliver accepted multiple bribes while being a member of the HCC Board of Trustees. Authorities said he used his position to help others secure contracts with the college, accepting cash and other gifts. Oliver pleaded guilty on May 15. Sreerama, authorities say, was one of Oliver's victims.

Sreerama paid Oliver $12,000 in bribes in 2015, but according to Sreerama, he was operating under the instruction of the FBI when that happened.

"I could not hurt the investigation until Mr. Oliver's plea agreement was announced," Sreerama said at a news conference Friday. "I gave the FBI my word that I would remain silent and I would keep this confidential, and that's exactly what I did."

Sreerama said he remained silent, even as the allegations against Oliver were made public to the media, because he did not want to break his word.

"I did not discuss it with my family, I did not tell my wife, I did not tell my son, I did not tell my friends." Sreerama said. "Telling anybody about this case or how I was involved even after the first reports came would have violated my oath to remain silent, but now, I am ready to set the record straight."

He called allegations of his involvement "total nonsense."

"I want to put out the truth. I have been a victim. I was with the FBI and I sent him to jail. The FBI will tell you that if it was not for me, the person will still be out there extorting people. However, because I agreed to work with the FBI, my name has been dragged through the mud," Sreerama said. "Because I could not disclose anything before today, stories began to take their own life. I have been unfairly, inaccurately and unjustly labeled as somebody who gives bribes."

He stressed that he never sought any bribes from Oliver.

"I did not ask of anything from him, I did not ask him to help me -- not anybody from HCC -- I never did," Sreerama maintained. "Anybody can check the public records. The last time I got a contract from HCC was in 2010."

Sreerama went on the explain that every dollar he used in the bribery scandal were federal funds. He said FBI agents gave him the money and credit cards -- which he handed over to Oliver --  under the supervision of the FBI.

"What I did do was, I assisted the FBI catch a criminal. Catch a crooked official and bring him to jail," Sreerama said. "For that, I am paying the price for doing a good deed. I am not a bad person, I did not do anything wrong. I was working with law enforcement officials and that is the truth."

The FBI has not filed any charges against Sreerama in the case.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner released the following statement on July 12 after the allegations came to light:

“I am placing city Public Works and Engineering Director Karun Sreerama on administrative leave with pay, effective today, while I review the entire matter stemming from a federal grand jury indictment naming him as the victim of a bribery scheme.

“Because I was not aware of the federal case until this week, which is when the indictment was revealed, I am taking this action so that I may thoroughly review the information to make sure there are no further related implications for the city and him. It is against everyone’s best interest for a public servant to have to operate under a cloud, as Mr. Sreerama and I have discussed in a brief telephone call. I continue to have confidence in Karun and look forward to his return.

“During the leave, PW&E Deputy Director Carol Haddock will serve as interim director, a position she has held previously.”

Oliver will remain out of jail on bond until sentencing, which is scheduled for Aug. 28.