Houston’s Midtown Redevelopment Authority has referred its investigation of a former top staffer to state and federal law enforcement agencies, its board chair said in a statement late Thursday.
Todd Edwards, the former real estate manager who was accused of “inappropriately” using his oversight of millions of dollars in authority landscaping funds to benefit himself and a contractor, is the focus of the investigation.
In a statement, authority board Chairman Al Odom said the authority had referred information on Edwards to law enforcement in order to “ensure accountability and uphold public trust.”
The statement Thursday was the first indication law enforcement agencies may be examining – or soon may examine – Edwards’ role in the use of public funds. The authority is a city government-affiliated entity, and almost all of its budget comes from property tax revenues under a controversial arrangement known as tax increment financing.
For years, millions of dollars in authority funds flowed to two landscaping companies, POWER, LLC and Cortez Landscaping, that were supposed to mow grass and pick up trash in the authority’s hundreds of vacant lots in Third Ward.
Over the past five years, POWER, LLC received $978,400 in authority funds, and Cortez received $3,179,343, according to the MRA.
The authority’s ultimate goal for the empty lots is building affordable housing. Residents, however, complained that the lots sat as empty eyesores, covered in overgrown vegetation despite the big landscaping contracts. One of those residents filed a formal complaint against Edwards in September 2020, accusing him of waste, fraud or abuse.
Earlier this year, that same resident discovered Edwards had founded an entity called P.O.W.E.R., LLC in 2001.
In early October, Houston’s Office of Inspector General released a letter stating that an investigation had concluded Edwards had “inappropriately” used his position to benefit himself and Cortez Landscaping.
By that time, Edwards already had been fired. The authority said he was terminated May 31.
Odom’s statement Thursday provided new information on why Edwards was forced out.
“Edwards was found and admitted to being engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a Midtown vendor connected to multiple entities. Edwards was required to disclose any interests he may have had with any vendor of Midtown and he did not,” Odom said.
Odom said the authority would continue to cooperate with law enforcement agencies.
“MRA did not have knowledge of any criminal wrongdoings at the time of Edwards’ termination and has not made a determination regarding any criminal activities,” he said.
An attempt to reach Edwards Thursday evening was unsuccessful. He did not respond to previous requests for comment. The attorney listed on a May termination letter did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The authority’s decision to refer information from its internal investigation drew praise from one resident on Thursday.
“My hope is there is some level of restitution for any funds that might have been mismanaged or misdirected from the intended affordable housing program,” said Ed Pettitt, vice president of the Third Ward super neighborhood. “It’s clear that Edwards was the main roadblock to many of these challenges we’ve had developing the empty lots, because we have seen progress in the short time since he’s been fired.”