All in the Family
A Connecticut developer testified Tuesday, Oct. 24, that the brother-in-law of Florita Bell Griffin, who was appointed to the board of the Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs by Gov. George W. Bush in 1995, led him to property allegedly owned by Griffin as the potential site for a federally subsidized apartment complex. Griffin is on trial in federal court in Houston for allegedly voting to approve Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects that benefited her financially. She is being tried alongside alleged co-conspirators and business partners Terrence Roberts and Joe Lee Walker.
Stephen Weiss, whose Connecticut development company New Hardscrabble Corp. has an office in Houston, said he hired Arlee Griffin Jr., a Brooklyn pastor, to help him locate suitable sites for apartment complexes in Texas. Weiss said a major reason for hiring Griffin was because "I hoped he would give me an introduction to his sister-in-law [Florita Bell Griffin], who was on the board of TDHCA." At the time, Bell Griffin served on the TDHCA subcommittee that chose which projects submitted in the highly competitive LIHTC program would be forwarded to the full board for approval. Weiss said Arlee introduced him to Florita in 1996; Weiss' first Texas project was approved later that year.
Two years later, Weiss said, Arlee Griffin suggested a site for another development outside Bryan. Griffin had testified earlier that he had not referred Weiss to any specific site, but on the stand, Weiss identified on a survey map the tract Griffin described, property that Griffin's company, Arkofa Consulting, had just deeded to Joe Lee Walker. According to documents presented by the U.S. Attorney's office, Walker, Roberts, and Florita Bell Griffin were business partners who purchased the land jointly, then divided it among themselves. Arlee Griffin said Florita deeded her tract to Arkofa in 1997, then, a few months later, instructed him to deed the property to Joe Lee Walker. Prosecutors presented a promissory note showing that Walker owed Arkofa $450,000 for the land.
Prosecutors finished presenting their case on Wednesday, but it was not clear at press time whether Griffin or other defendants took the stand. The trial began Monday, Oct. 16. Griffin faces up to 55 years in prison and fines up to $2 million if convicted.