Trio accused of stealing more than $8 million in tax money meant to be used for redevelopment in Third Ward

When citizens noticed redevelopment wasn't happening as promised in the Third Ward, they sparked an investigation that uncovered millions in allegedly stolen funds.

Trio accused of stealing more than $8 million in tax money meant to be used for redevelopment in Third Ward

HOUSTON — "People hate public corruption."

That's how Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg began a news conference on Friday at which she announced that three people had been arrested and charged in connection with a scheme that took millions of dollars away from redevelopment plans in Houston's Third Ward.

Ogg said about $8.5 million in public funds from the Midtown Redevelopment Authority was stolen by Todd Alan Edwards, Veronica Ugorji and Ken Jones.

The trio worked with the Midtown Redevelopment Authority, a TIRZ that uses tax money to improve specific areas across the city. Edwards was the real estate asset manager and Ugorji and Jones were contractors.

According to court documents, the scheme occurred from Sept. 27, 2018, through Feb. 22, 2023.

In this case, two Third Ward residents notified officials that work wasn't being done in their neighborhoods and that's what led to the Texas Rangers investigating. Brian Vantubergen and Ed Pettitt said they complained for years about a lack of redevelopment and continued problems with nuisance properties. They said redevelopment and maintenance weren't happening as it was promised and lots weren't being maintained like they were told they would be and had become magnets for crime.

According to Ogg, Edwards was in control of spending the money for the betterment of the neighborhood but instead used it to line his own pockets as well as the pockets of Ugorji and Jones. She said they spend the money on houses, cars, trips and pornography.

Edwards is facing charges of corruption, abuse of official capacity, theft and money laundering while Ugorji and Jones are both charged with abuse of official capacity and money laundering. According to court documents, Jones posted bond and was due back in court on July 8. The status of the other two suspects was unknown.

Ogg said the TIRZ positions are generally appointed by the mayor and city officials have to make sure the money is being spent correctly and the work is being done. She said this particular scheme was very unsophisticated and anyone who took the time to look into it could have seen the money was being misused.

"The TIRZ play a real, real important role in the maintenance and redevelopment of our city," Houston Mayor John Whitmire said. "Due to the revenue cap, they often have discretionary funds to spend on neighborhood quality-of-life issues. It's outrageous that we have discovered that they have criminal intent."

Whitmire said none of the current members of the Midtown Redevelopment Authority were appointed by his administration.

"In my office, we closely inspect the profile, the background and any conflict of interest possibility when we make these TIRZ appointments," Whitmire said.

Whitmire said leaders have started discussions about the process of reviewing all of the TIRZs across the city.

"The public expects better," Whitmire said.

Anyone with concerns of their own on how public money is being used is asked to call the Texas Rangers at 281-517-1400.

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