She pleaded guilty to bribery in a government job, then worked for Harris County for another 2 months


For seven weeks, Rhonda Skillern-Jones was like any other Harris County Precinct 1 employee, with one dubious distinction: She was the only one to plead guilty in a federal public corruption case.

Skillern-Jones reached a plea deal on Oct. 28, admitting a single count of conspiracy to defraud the government. Prosecutors said she admitted to accepting payments as a Houston Independent School District trustee from a vendor, then putting a contract for the vendor on the school board’s agenda and voting in favor of it. .

However, Skillern-Jones continued to work for Precinct 1 as a community aide until December 16, when the Justice Department announced guilty pleas for her and four HISD employees involved in the scheme after dropping indictments against district COO Brian. Busby and contractor Anthony Hutchison.

Democratic Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said he had no knowledge of Skillern-Jones’ involvement to date. He said he fired her immediately.

“Today’s news has come as a shock to us, and we have never had any indication of such inexcusable wrongdoing during his time at Compound 1,” Ellis said in a Dec. 16 statement.

Skillern-Jones also remained in her seat on the Houston Community College board of trustees until her plea deal came to light. She resigned from the seat she had held for two years, the day after the US Attorney’s office announced her plea deal.

Why Skillern-Jones kept his job for a local government for nearly two months after admitting to defrauding another remains unclear. Based on his annual salary of $71,837, Skillern-Jones would have earned $9,670 as an Ellis staffer during that period, excluding benefits.

Skillern-Jones did not respond to requests for comment.

Ellis agreed Monday to answer questions about Skillern-Jones, but changed his mind Wednesday and returned the Chronicle to its original statement.

Although officials cannot control the conduct of their employees, the incident could be politically problematic, said University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus.

Democrats pledged to clean up county government after they took control in 2019, and he said that could cause voters, righteous or not, to question that pledge.

“Democrats are trying to maintain the idea that they’re better at governing the county and they can do it more openly and transparently,” Rottinghaus said. “That messaging is hurt when episodes like this strain that credibility.”

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