December 2, 2022

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Health department official admits to accepting bribes from vendors

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HOUSTON – The former administrative and community outreach coordinator for the Houston Health Department (HHD) has pleaded guilty to bribery, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery along with Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Criminal Division.  

Barry Barnes, 62, accepted bribes from three businesses in exchange for influencing the selection of each to perform services for the HHD.   

“This office has an unyielding commitment to attack public corruption at any level. The people of the Southern District of Texas deserve an environment in which public officials are held to the highest standards,” said Lowery. “This prosecution should send a clear message that we will find and hold accountable any public official who abuses the public trust.”

From November 2019 until March 2021, Barnes engaged in a kickback scheme with a business owner and abused his position with the HHD to facilitate the selection of the business under the emergency purchase order process. Barnes subsequently submitted invoices to ensure this individual was paid for six lucrative marketing, advertising and media contracts, including three service contracts related to the COVID-19 global pandemic that federal COVID-19 relief funded. In exchange, Barnes received several cash payments from January 2020 to February 2021.

As part of his plea agreement, Barnes acknowledged that in December 2020, he selected another business owner to perform advertising services for the HHD. In return, Barnes received a portion of the funds. Barnes again engaged in the same scheme in January 2021 with yet another business. He received a kickback for assisting that business owner in obtaining a disbursement from the City of Houston for advertisement services performed for the HHD.

Barnes pleaded guilty to bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 maximum possible fine. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake will impose sentencing Jan. 26, 2023.  

He was permitted to remain on bond pending that hearing.

The FBI – Houston Field Office conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian A. Edwards and Trial Attorney Demetrius Sumner of DOJ’s Public Integrity Section are prosecuting the case.

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