Houston Community College Trustee and one-time City Council candidate Jay Aiyer is facing a charge of tampering with a governmental record, a felony that could cost him his law license, authorities said Monday.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office accused Aiyer of committing the offense in March 2005, by "unlawfully removing, destroying, and concealing, the original filing" of a portion of his campaign finance report and substituting it with another document.
The charges were filed in the 184th criminal court last Thursday. Aiyer posted a $2,000 bond the following day.
Aiyer, reached Monday, said he could not talk about the charges in detail.
"We will be able to work this thing out in a couple of days," he said. "I think it's going to be resolved."
Aiyer, 38, a lawyer who once served as chief of staff to former Mayor Lee Brown, has hired Dennis Cain to represent him. Cain did not return a call seeking comment.
The charges stem from a complaint initially filed with the Texas Ethics Commission more than two years ago. The complaint, lodged by an associate of Aiyer's then-competitor and now City Councilwoman Sue Lovell, accused Aiyer of trying to hide expenditures from his HCC campaign account, including a loan repayment to himself of $5,000, when there was no record of the original loan. It also accused him of failing to report payments to political consultants and failing to itemize credit card payments.
The ethics commission referred the complaint to the Harris County district attorney's office in April 2006. The DA's office looked into whether Aiyer tampered with government records, but did not investigate potential election code violations, said Donna Goode, the division chief over the DA's public integrity unit.
When Aiyer became aware of the allegations, he met with HCC officials, who keep campaign finance filings. Over a period of a few months he reviewed his reports, according to the affidavit from the DA's office. Officials said it was during that time documents appear to have been switched.
On one occasion, Aiyer arrived with papers in his hand and was left unsupervised. During another visit, Aiyer asked to see a copy of public information requests filed for copies of his reports. He was provided one copy of a report by the legal assistant to the HCC general counsel and never returned with the file. On a third trip to the general counsel's office, Aiyer reportedly asked for a staple remover and stapler.
The DA's office also said different fonts appeared on paperwork Aiyer said he retyped and filed on a typewriter at HCC.
"The allegation is he obtained these records and destroyed or removed them with the intent to defraud to harm," Goode said.
"A state jail felony is pretty serious for anybody. When you add on top of that that he is a licensed attorney and he is in an elected position, it's a very serious concern."
Chronicle reporter Robert Crowe contributed to this report.
NOTE: This story is a follow-up to an earlier story by Kirsten Mack
By KRISTEN MACK - Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle - Aug. 4, 2005
The race is for the City Council, but campaign-finance reports under scrutiny are for the Houston Community College System.
Two candidates for Council At-Large Position 2 are studying the reports hoping to find an issue against a third candidate, HCCS board member Jay Aiyer. Aiyer says there's nothing to find.
Candidate Sue Lovell says the reports show that Aiyer has attempted to hide expenditures out of his HCCS campaign account — including a loan repayment to himself, unreported payments to political consultants and unitemized credit-card payments.
"Anyone can file a complaint and allege that someone did something wrong," responded Aiyer. "In my case, it's not true. Her allegations are all factually incorrect."
Aiyer was appointed to fill a vacancy on the college system board of trustees in 2001 and was elected to a six-year term later that year without opposition. Though his spot isn't up again until 2007, he has kept a campaign war chest.
Under a city law passed just this year, Aiyer can transfer no more than $10,000 from that account to his city race. But that potential head start has Lovell and another opponent, John Elford, scrutinizing Aiyer's reports.
Lovell produced Aiyer campaign-finance reports from 2004 listing a $5,000 disbursement to Aiyer and recording that it was to repay a loan he had made to his campaign.
Kathryn McNiel, who was Aiyer's political consultant in 2004 and completed the HCC campaign forms on his behalf, said she remembers seeing a $5,000 check to Aiyer and listing it among the campaign's reported expenditures.
"Once those reports left my hands, I do not know what changes Jay made to them, when he finalized them,"McNiel said.
The $5,000 payment doesn't show up on Aiyer campaign-finance reports provided to the Houston Chronicle by HCC's general counsel office, which keeps reports filed by board candidates.
Neither those documents nor the ones Lovell has record a loan from Aiyer to his campaign.
Many of the documents on file now are affidavits of correction that Aiyer filed in April.
Aiyer maintains his corrections weren't substantive and brushes off Lovell's complaints as "classic political stuff" designed to cast a cloud on his campaign.
Lovell says her complaints have nothing to do with politics.
"Campaign-finance reports tell a lot about the integrity of a person," she said. "Where you get your money and how you manage your money tell a lot about how you will manage taxpayer money when you're on council."
Filing ethics complaint
Allen Blakemore, political consultant to Aiyer's other announced opponent, John Elford, said he also has noticed discrepancies in Aiyer's reports.
"Jay Aiyer is not complying with the letter or spirit of the law," Blakemore said. "They are hiding things and playing fast and loose with the rules."
Kevin Roach, a friend of Lovell, filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission in April alleging Aiyer converted campaign funds to personal use, failed to report political expenditures, failed to report the "payee and purpose" of certain expenditures and failed to itemize payments to credit-card companies.
Ethics complaints are confidential, unless the commission issues an "agreed order," meaning it has investigated allegations and found evidence of a violation.
All of this, remember, is over campaign-finance reports that don't involve the Position 2 race. Lovell also has perused Aiyer's City Council campaign-finance reports and says she sees no problems there.
That doesn't mean you won't hear more talk about campaign-finance issues as the council race gets hotter.