Chancellor Cesar Maldonado clear of all charges

Alyssa Foley, Editor in Chief

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No evidence was found of Houston Community College’s Chancellor Cesar Maldonado committing any criminal activity in the purchase of the former Conn’s Appliance store property in front of the West Loop campus.

The Harris County District Attorney Office’s Public Integrity Division concluded their investigation on March 4.

Last August, HCC Trustee Dave Wilson filed a complaint against Chancellor Cesar Maldonado and Chief Facilities Officer Chuck Smith for what he called “Fraud/Misappropriation of Bond Funds” due to “misstatements [that] resulted in excess money being paid for the property.”

The college hired appraisers who placed the value of the 5505 West Loop South property at $5.3 million in November 2014, but pumped the figure to $8.5 million in January 2015 which is what the college ultimately paid for it.

The adjustments were based on a prospective lease with Tesla Motors and the rental income such a lease would generate, but no lease ever materialized and the building still sits vacant.

The statement from the District Attorney’s office said that documents provided by Trustee Wilson were reviewed, as well as documents obtained from Tesla Motors and from the Texas Appraiser Licensing and Certification Board.

The state licensing board stated that they “found that the report contained minor deficiencies” in the appraiser’s work, and issued a non-disciplinary warning letter advising that “documentation and analyses to support adjustments” be provided and any prior work on a property be acknowledged.

On March 11, HCC Board of Trustees Chair Adriana Tamez reassured faculty that, “There was never any wrongdoing….we knew he was going to be cleared.”

“I get tired of hearing the excuse that they just made a stupid move, rather than it being a criminal move,” said Trustee Dave Wilson in a interview, “which isn’t much consolation to me, because the fact remains we paid three or four million too much for that building.”

Wilson added that he’s “still not convinced that there wasn’t something criminal involved in that.”

Before filing the complaint, Wilson filed an open records request to the college administration for a copy of any leasing documents with Tesla Motors. He said that the response he received from the college was there were no lease documents. The January appraisal states that they asked for actual letters of intent, but were not provided any.

Wilson received what he calls a “bogus” letter of intent from the college, which was not signed. The first page is dated January 9, 2015, but the last paragraph states that it must be signed and accepted by November 31, 2014.

While the college administration told the trustee it was all the documents they had, Wilson said the District Attorney’s office told him that from Tesla Motors, they subpoenaed 500 pages of correspondence with HCC and drafts of the lease.

“That’s funny how this all appeared after I filed a criminal complaint,” said Wilson.

The nine elected Board of Trustees hire the chancellor. Wilson believes the chancellor or any other member of the college administration keeping information away from any trustees is grounds for dismissal.

“I believe that was a good purchase,” Trustee Tamez stated at the March Faculty Senate meeting about the Conn’s building, “we’re going to end up—because of where [the West Loop campus is] at—needing additional classrooms. That we know, but it’s not going to happen tomorrow. This is in a few years, but we looked ahead. It was a good purchase. It was a great purchase. And it was one that we [the board of trustees] made with the chancellor collectively—for the most part.”

“Do we have too much property? Ya, we know we do,” Tamez admitted, “We are currently looking at our land assets…How much land do we own? Where is this land located?”

“We are planning ahead and looking into the future, and looking to see exactly what we’re planning to do with every piece of property that we own. That is underway. That is part of our long-range plan.” Dr. Tamez added that going forward they plan on making decisions that “make sense.”

Last month, the trustees authorized the chancellor to execute another lease agreement for the Conn’s property. Details on what tenant may take up residence at 5505 West Loop South will not be made public until a deal is finalized.

Leases for the property have fallen through before. If this one doesn’t work out, HCC students have some other ideas for the property.

Adrian Nwanze asked Tamez at the United Student Council meeting on March 11 if the former Conn’s building could be made into a student recreation center. Currently, HCC leases local gyms spaces for recreational activities.

Last September, the Southwest Student Government Association started a petition for a new student recreation center, which called for “multi-purpose areas which can be used for the benefit of all students, including a full weight room, group exercise rooms, student lounges, basketball courts, and a food center.”

“It makes sense to build in a building that we purchased,” Tamez told Nwanze. She encouraged students to submit their ideas as a proposal.