Harris County Attorney Ryan Sues two Northwest Houston Game Rooms in One Center; One Game Room Tied to Organized Crime

     Harris County Vince Ryan has filed a lawsuit against the owners of two Northwest Houston game rooms and the owners of the strip center where they operate. The lawsuit, filed on Friday, November 4, seeks to bring the game rooms into compliance with the law and alleges the retail center’s owners have not done enough to protect customers.

     The County is suing the Karaoke Green Grass Game Room and Lucky Charm Game Room, both located at 9480 Long Point, for violations of the Harris County Game Room Regulations and for being public nuisances.

     The Houston Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office conducted a long-term investigation of the Green Grass game room which is owned and operated by Shannol Horne, Chang Choi, Seong Choi, and Sook Young Yoo. Officers determined that illegal gambling was taking place inside this game room and executed search warrants at the game room and Choi’s residence. HPD discovered almost $2 million dollars in cash at the two locations. Three defendants have been charged with organized crime.

     Yolanda Al-Magableh owns the Lucky Charm Game Room at the same location. After months of investigation, HPD officers determined that the operators of Lucky Charm, Diana Hernandez-Rodriguez and Alma Aguilar, were giving illegal payouts in violation of County regulations.  All three are defendants in the County’s lawsuit.

     The two game rooms have racked up a total of 1,894 violations of the County game room regulations which could result in up to $10,000 per violation in civil penalties.

     The County is also suing Tom Linh Vo and Van Tui Hoang, owners of the strip center at 9480 Long Point, for not taking adequate steps to prevent crime on the property.

     According to County Attorney Ryan, unregulated game rooms are often targets for criminals creating serious safety issues for customers and employees.  An aggravated robbery occurred at the Green Grass Game Room in June, where Choi and customers were held at gunpoint.

     Harris County Attorney’s Office has been working with the Spring Branch Management District since 2011 to improve area neighborhoods by focusing on property where habitual criminal activity is occurring.

Click here to read the lawsuit.

County Attorney Vince Ran obtains retraining order Against Bissonnet Corridor smoke shop to stop selling kush

     Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, joined by city officials, won a restraining order on Wednesday from a district court against the ST Smoke Shop, 9681 Bissonnet, to stop the sale of synthetic marijuana, an illegal drug known on the streets as “kush.”

     After conducting undercover investigations at the store, Houston Police Department narcotics officers executed a search warrant and retrieved large quantities of kush as well as hash oil, codeine, and marijuana, which were hidden throughout the store, including in the bottom of a garbage can.  Police arrested clerks Justin Finch and Dandy Chavez for possession of a controlled substance.

     Judge Jeff Shadwick, presiding judge of the 55th Judicial District Court of Harris County, also ordered the store owners to engage two uniformed law enforcement officers for security at the store and close the store by 10 p.m.  At final trial, the County Attorney will seek a permanent injunction to close the store location for one year.

     The Bissonnet Corridor, a one-mile segment of Bissonnet between the Southwest Freeway and the Sam Houston Tollway, is well-known by law enforcement as a hot spot for prostitution and human trafficking as well as illegal drugs. 

     The civil action against ST Smoke Shop is part of an ongoing initiative of law enforcement, the Harris County Attorney’s Office, city officials, and the Southwest Management District to reduce crime along the Bissonnet Corridor. The Harris County Attorney’s Office has been working with the Southwest Management District since 2011 to improve neighborhoods by focusing on property where there is habitual criminal activity occurring.

     “Kush has become an epidemic that must be stopped,” said County Attorney Ryan.  “We will continue to attack the problem at its source—those who sell this dangerous drug.”

Click here to read the lawsuit and here to read the restraining order.

County Attorney Vince Ryan obtains retraining order against Gulf Freeway convenience store to stop selling kush

     Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, joined by city officials, won a restraining order from a Harris County civil district court against a Gulf Freeway gas station and convenience store to stop the sale of synthetic marijuana, an illegal drug known on the streets as “kush.”
     Synthetic marijuana, or kush, is typically manufactured overseas and is marketed as a “safe” and “legal” alternative to marijuana. Synthetic marijuana is not marijuana at all but a dried leafy substance that is sprayed with powerful, added-in hallucinogenic chemicals that are dangerous and highly addictive to the user. It is often sold in colorful packets, with flavors such as strawberry and blueberry, in order to appeal to children, and is the second most abused drug by high school students, after marijuana itself. It is also illegal in Texas.
     Today’s restraining order forbids the owners of a gas station and convenience store located on the feeder road at 6420 Gulf Freeway from selling kush. In October, narcotics officers with the Houston Police Department, using confidential informants, determined the store was selling synthetic marijuana in unmarked “silver” bags. When officers returned to the store with a search warrant, the store clerks locked themselves in the back room and attempted to hide the kush by pouring it down the sink. Officers retrieved the evidence and arrested Mohamad S. Islam and Tofayel Ahmed. According to police officers, the store owner and clerks had been warned repeatedly in the past not to sell kush.
     Judge Michael Landrum, presiding judge of the 113th Civil District Court of Harris County, ordered the store owner to engage two uniformed law enforcement officers for security at the store and close the store by 10 p.m. At final trial, the County Attorney will seek a permanent injunction to close the store location for one year.
     “My office will continue to work with law enforcement, the Mayor and city officials to send the message to store owners that the people of Harris County will not tolerate the sale of these dangerous substances,” County Attorney Ryan said. “We will take whatever steps necessary to stop the sale of kush, including shutting down their businesses if necessary.”

Harris County Attorney Ryan Wins Major Case On Government Liability

 Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has won a victory in a case that had far-reaching negative implications for Texas’ governmental entities.
     The Texas Supreme Court announced today that it has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Harris County and the county Flood Control District by over 400 homeowners who claimed that their homes suffered flood damage because the county allowed upstream development.
The County Attorney argued and the Court agreed that the County was not responsible for damages homeowners suffered from flooding that occurred in 1998, 2001, and 2002. The justices said there was no way officials would have known that particular properties downstream would flood.

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Harris County Attorney Ryan Sues Motel Bringing Crime to Northwest Harris County

     Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has sued the owners of a northwest Harris County motel that has been the site of numerous crimes, including a murder.

     The lawsuit claims that Champions Lodge at 4726 FM 1960 West is a public nuisance that harbors regular criminal activity, including sexual assault, prostitution, robberies and drug offenses.  The suit says that the owner, 3S Investments LLC, has knowingly tolerated this activity for years.

     More than 350 calls for service were made from Champions Lodge to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department in the past two years.  The hotel is located behind a family-style restaurant.  Residents and customers complain that they are frequently followed to their cars, where people solicit money or prostitution.  Recently a motel guest was charged with murder after witnesses saw him dragging a body out of the motel.

     “It’s bad enough that we have crime at this hotel,” said County Attorney Ryan, “but when it spills over into the community, that’s simply unacceptable and we have to act.”

     Since the owner has refused to take action, the lawsuit asks the court for a temporary injunction to require the owner to abate the crime that’s causing the nuisance and to post a bond to ensure that happens.  If the order is violated, the County Attorney is asking that the owner by fined and that the building’s certificate of occupancy be pulled, utility service discontinued and the use of public streets be prohibited for access to the hotel.

     A permanent injunction is also being sought that would close Champions Lodge for one year.

     “Nuisances cannot be allowed to bring crime into our community,” said County Attorney Ryan.  

Harris County Attorney Ryan Urges EPA To Clean Up San Jacinto River Waste Pits

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan joined Congressman Gene Green and many local residents Thursday night to urge the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt a proposal for full removal of the dangerous waste.

     At a public hearing held by the EPA in Highlands, Ryan explained that he and his staff have been working with non-profit groups, County Commissioners and county departments and citizens for nearly eight years to rid the community of the waste pits, which contain dioxin, the most dangerous chemical known to man.

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MEDIA ADVISORY: County Attorney Ryan to Speak Thursday at EPA Hearing on San Jacinto River Waste Pits

Contact: Robert Soard
First Assistant County Attorney

WHO: Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan

WHAT: Public hearing by Environmental Protection Agency on recommended plan to remove dioxin-tainted waste from the San Jacinto River Superfund site.

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, October 20, 2016

WHERE: Highlands Community Center, 604 Highland Woods Drive

County Attorney Ryan, a number of non-profit organizations and numerous local residents have been working for years to encourage the EPA to require that paper mill waste tainted with the deadly chemical dioxin be removed from the waste pits on the San Jacinto River. The waste pits have been capped but chemicals continue to leak into the river, where it contaminates seafood.

A report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed that removal using best management practices could eliminate the waste safely. Last month, the EPA recommended a remedy that will remove about 200,000 cubic yards of the contaminated material. The agency is allowing a 60-day comment period that includes the public hearing Thursday. County Attorney Ryan will urge the EPA to move forward with the recommended removal of the dangerous waste.

For more information on the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, please visit: www.sanjacintoriverwastepits.com.

Judge Dismisses Harris County Officials of Cheating Plaintiffs out of Property

U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Hoyt has dismissed a lawsuit claiming Harris County probate judges, a court coordinator, opposing litigants, opposing counsel, and others conspired to cheat the plaintiffs out of property due them from certain probate and trust estates.

The judge found the plaintiffsfailedtopleadaracketeering activitywithspecific facts as required by Fed. R. Civ. P., Rule 9(b). The court said, “the fact that the plaintiffs dispute theoutcomeofvariousmotionsdoesnotmeanthatroutinecommunicationsareactsof conspiracy or fraud... Simply filing papers with the Harris County Clerk or entering into an agreement to resolve disputes ... are not acts of fraudorconspiracy.”

The Court ruled there were no pleadings showing when, how and by whose acts or authority Harris County Probate Court One became an “association” as defined by RICO.

Laura Hedge was the lead attorney representing the Harris County defendants. The case is Sheshtawy v Conservative Club of Houston. Click here to view the order of dismissal.

Judge dismisses inmate's ability to pay bail case

United States District Judge Vanessa Gilmore has dismissed a lawsuit filed by an inmate who claimed that his bond had been set without consideration of his ability to pay. Judge Gilmore held that under the doctrine of Younger v Harris, a 1971 U.S. Supreme Court case, a federal court may not intervene in state court prosecutions except in extraordinary circumstances. Because the inmate’s aggravated assault proceeding was ongoing the federal court abstained from interfering with the state court case.

The judge also found that the inmate’s claims that he was kept incarcerated in jail for too long under excessive bond against Sheriff Hickman lacked merit.  Bond is set by a court and the Sheriff has no role in setting bail.

The case is Jackson vs. Hickman Laura Hedge was the Assistant County Attorney in charge of the case.

Stokes and Byers: Toxic waste must be removed from San Jac river

Recent attention to the deadly, cancer-causing dioxin wastes from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits is sorely needed: These wastes need to be removed as soon as possible because they pose a serious, looming threat to Galveston Bay and those who consume its seafood. The pits, placed on the federal Superfund list reserved for the nation's most toxic sites in 2008, are in the worst possible location on the bank of this major tidal river made all the worse due to subsidence. About half of the site is now in the river.

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County Attorney Vince Ryan Obtains $1 Million-Plus Fine Against Katz Boutique & Smoke Shops For Selling Kush

Katz’s owners agreed to pay the $1.175 million fine to settle lawsuits filed by the state and county. The lawsuits resulted from a series of undercover investigations by Harris County Sheriff’s Office narcotics officers that led to the seizure of more than 3,000 packets of synthetic marijuana. The investigation revealed the Katz stores had sold many thousands of packets of kush.

The penalty is the largest ever paid in Texas from a case involving the sale of synthetic marijuana.

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Harris County Public Health calls for Removal of Dioxin dump

FOX 26 News reporter Greg Groogan

SEP 02 2016

HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Another persuasive voice has joined the virtual chorus calling for decisive action on the Superfund site known as the San Jacinto River waste pits.

In a forceful letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Umair Shah, head of Harris County Public Health, says leaving the tons of cancer-causing Dioxin waste capped in place beside and beneath the San Jacinto River puts at risk the health of Houston-area residents in the event of a natural disaster. 

Shah says complete removal of the toxin is the only effective and permanent remedy.

Harris County Public Health calls for removal of Dioxin dump

On behalf of the Harris County Attorney's Office, Rock Owens has been battling over the last eight years for a clean-up and says Shah's statement is critical.

"It is a matter of public health," says Owens. "It's not just a matter of what people want or what they feel comfortable with its a matter of safety."

Owens also says a freshly-completed study by the Parsons engineering firm concludes the waste can be excavated and hauled away safely without risk of releasing a significant quantity of the Dioxin into the river.

"It can be done safely and can be done quickly and that's the remedy that needs to be followed," says Owens.
The Parsons report also warns that a highly likely future hurricane strike or barge collision on the dump site could be "catastrophic."

"Once that happens, that's the end game -- it's over," adds Owens. "We'll never be able to clean-up the bay.'' 

There is an online entity that calls itself Keep It Capped which opposes removal of the Dioxin.

For months, FOX 26 News has tried to connect with a single person who will state the case for Keep It Capped, but so far no one has stepped forward.

On the Sept. 2 FOX 26 News at 5 p.m. broadcast, reporter Greg Groogan issued a very public offer, guaranteeing airtime for Keep It Capped to present the organization's arguments on condition that those positions are delivered in person and not from a mysterious website.


Local health officials want EPA to remove toxic river waste

The director of Harris County Public Health on Thursday sent a letter to federal environmental regulators urging them to remove toxic waste from the San Jacinto River, arguing it's the only course of action to address threats to human health and the environment.

Umair Shah, Harris County Public Health's executive director, told U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials that leaving the waste in the river is a bad idea, pointing to the problems that have occurred since a temporary cap was placed over the waste five years ago.

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Harris County Attorney Ryan Wins Court Order to Close Seven Spas Known as Fronts for Prostitution

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has won a temporary injunction closing seven “spas” where a number of arrests for prostitution have occurred. Judge Jeff Shadwick signed the order on Monday closing the businesses as common nuisances. They are located throughout the city of Houston:

  •  “A” Spa, owned by Karl Todd Erickson, 8320 Gulf Freeway
  • New Haven Spa, 8320 Gulf Freeway
  • Mam Spa and Paris Spa, 13662 Westheimer
  • Oak Spa, 9544 Richmond
  • 249 Spa, 14901 State Highway 249
  • JC Spa, 2900 Hillcroft
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County Attorney Vince Ryan Wins Court Order To Stop Kush Supplier Linked to Hermann Park Mass Overdose

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, joined by the Texas Attorney General and city officials, won a restraining order Tuesday from a Harris County civil court against three Houston-area smoke shops and their owners to stop the sale of synthetic marijuana, known on the streets as “kush.”

Based on a tip to the Houston Police Department, the three stores, known as Spice Boutique and Spice Inc., reportedly supplied some of the kush that led to a massive overdose in Hermann Park in June. At least 16 people were hospitalized. 

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Harris County Attorney Ryan Sues Retail Center, Two Businesses For Promoting Prostitution and Illegal Gambling

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan filed a lawsuit last week to shut down two businesses in one northwest Houston retail center: a strip club for promoting prostitution and a game room for illegal gambling. The suit was brought as the result of numerous undercover investigations by the Houston Police Department, which yielded arrests for prostitution and illegal cash payouts. 

The lawsuit seeks to stop the illegal activities at the Glamour Girls Cabaret and RMCT Game Room, located at 14428 Hempstead Highway. The suit states that the defendants are harboring criminal activity by knowingly tolerating it and failing to take reasonable steps to stop it.

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Young: San Jacinto waste pits: Full remediation

The San Jacinto River waste pits are a known source of pollution in the Houston-Galveston region and a remedy should be one that is well planned, engineered and based on sound science to ensure long-term protection of natural resources and public health on the Upper Texas Coast. Local communities, local governments and local environmental organizations support full remediation of the waste pits. The pits should be isolated from the river, dewatered and excavated in a controlled environment before Mother Nature further disrupts the site.

When the waste pits were rediscovered in 2005, they presented a tremendous threat to public health and the environment, and something had to be done quickly to temporarily stop the release of highly carcinogenic waste until the EPA could determine a long-term remedy. The temporary cap has proven highly problematic in its five short years of existence. The cap has undergone several repairs; there are currently over 40 known deficiencies in the cap, and this past December a 22 foot-by-25 foot hole was discovered in the cap and the highest concentrations of dioxin (&43,000 ppt) to date were found just outside this hole.

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Harris County sued by DOJ over polling places for voters with disabilities

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing Harris County, saying the county hasn't made polling places accessible to voters with disabilities.

The suit claims the county violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Justice Department said many polling places in Harris County have architectural barriers like steep ramps and narrow doors.

"Like all voters, individuals with disabilities deserve the opportunity to vote at their local polling place -- where they can greet neighbors, meet candidates and discuss the issues in their community," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said. "But many voters with disabilities in Harris County lack equal access to this basic and most fundamental right. 

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DOJ: Harris County isn't providing adequate access to disabled voters

Harris County violated federal law by not making polling locations accessible to voters with disabilities in a special election held earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The Justice Department said steep curb ramps, gaps in sidewalks and walkways and other "architectural barriers" would have prevented voters with disabilities from accessing most of the 32 polling places used in a May 7 special election for a state representative seat.

The special election was to fill out the term of Democrat Sylvester Turner, who vacated the District 139 seat in January to become mayor.

"Voters with disabilities assigned to inaccessible polling places are being harmed in that they are being denied the same opportunities as nondisabled voters to vote in person during Early Voting and on Election Day, and to participate equally in the electoral process," the suit stated.

The agency is asking a federal court to order Harris County to provide within 30 days a plan for remedying any violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Robert Soard with the Harris County Attorney's Office said the county would review the Justice Department's findings and likely file a response in the coming days. But Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart questions the merits of the allegations and says they are politically motivated.

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Repeat election contestant sanctioned

A state district judge signed an order on July 25 awarding $52,350 in expenses, costs, and attorneys fees against a plaintiff who had filed two separate election contests against the Harris County Clerk's Office. At the hearing on the County's motion to dismiss, the plaintiff stormed out of the courtroom and accused the judge of treason.

Demetria Smith first filed a lawsuit in November 2015 claiming that the County Clerk had tampered with the election results in the Houston mayoral race because Channel 13 allegedly reported results different from those on the official Clerk's website. That case ended with the judge finding there was no evidence of election or voting fraud and dismissed the case after a two-day long hearing. In March 2016, Smith filed a second lawsuit again claiming election fraud in her race for Texas House of Representative for District 149. 

The judge ordered that Ms. Smith cannot file any further affirmative pleadings in the case until she pays the sanctions owed. The case is Smith v. Harris County Democratic Party, et. al. Click here to view the order granting sanctions. Assistant County Attorneys Laura Hedge and Douglas Ray led the trial team.