Houston, TX – Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Tuesday that her office had too many conflicts of interest to proceed with prosecuting money laundering cases involving two poker parlors in Houston.
But instead of recusing herself so an independent prosecutor could be appointed, the county’s top prosecutor dropped felony charges against nine poker room owners and employees and is trying to return about $206,000 in seized cash to the defendants, KTRK reported.
Ogg refused to identify the people who created the conflict of interest, saying only that it involved a former contract employee and donor to her campaign, the Houston Chronicle reported.
However, attorneys for several defendants said that business consultant Amir Mireskandari was the biggest problem.
Mireskandari was chair of Ogg’s campaign finance committee for her 2016 election, KTRK reported.
He and his wife were big campaign donors who gave Ogg’s election effort $14,475 in monetary and in-kind contributions between 2016 and 2017, the Houston Chronicle reported.
They also hosted several campaign fundraising events for Ogg at their $3.2 million mansion.
After she was elected, the district attorney gave her former finance chair a contract with her office consulting on financial crime investigations, despite the fact that Mireskandari is not an attorney.
Defense attorneys for the poker operators told KTRK that Mireskandari was working for the same poker rooms that Ogg’s office was prosecuting while he was under contract to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
He was hired to help the poker rooms secure legal permits to operate or to pass legislation to legalize their operations.
Defense attorneys told KTRK that Mireskandari was paid at least $25,000 for his services to the poker operators, but some defense attorneys said he was paid several times more.
City records showed that Ogg signed three consecutive one-year contracts with Mireskandari for his assistance in investigating and prosecuting “complex financial and economic crimes,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
County auditor records showed that Mireskandari was paid $18,337 by the district attorney’s office between February of 2017 and May of 2018.
Mireskandari hadn’t billed the county since May of 2018 despite Ogg signing his new contract in February, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The poker clubs involved in the dismissed case were raided by police in conjunction with an investigation by the district attorney’s office.
Nine owners and employees were arrested and charged with multiple counts that included money laundering, engaging in organized criminal activity, and gambling promotion, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Defense attorneys took the information regarding Mireskandari to Ogg in July to make her aware of the conflict of interest, but instead of recusing herself to allow another prosecutor to prosecute the cases, she dismissed all of the charges against all of the defendants, KTRK reported.
She has also refused to reveal who the other “multiple” conflicts of interest were that caused her to dismiss so many charges, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Ogg said in a statement that she had decided to have an outside agency – in this case, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – review the cases.
However, a defense attorney told KTRK that the agents assigned to look at the cases are with the public corruption squad, not the organized crime unit.
"The FBI will review the material provided to us by the Harris County DA's Office and consult with the USAO to determine whether or not any federal law(s) were violated,” the FBI told KTRK in a statement.
The dismissal of the charges doesn’t take the poker parlors completely out of the district attorney’s hands yet though, because they had filed a civil suit against the clubs, trying to shut them down as a public nuisance, the Houston Chronicle reported.
First Assistant Harris County Attorney Robert Soard said that his office was still figuring out how to proceed with the civil case because they had just learned about the dropped criminal charges.