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EXCLUSIVE: Corpus Christi city councilman speaks out for the first time after reporting alleged bribery incident

Posted at 5:00 PM, Dec 09, 2021

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — UPDATE (Monday 12:13 p.m.): Richard Valls issued a statement to KRIS 6 News on Monday, stating:

Corpus Christi City Councilman Billy Lerma confirmed Thursday he "reported to law enforcement authorities incidents regarding a candidate seeking my support for a re-appointment to the port commission."

"I feel I did the right thing," the District 1 councilman said. "These incidents weighed heavily on my mind, and I believed I needed to come forward and discuss them with the proper law enforcement authorities."

As KRIS 6 News first reported last week, Corpus Christi City Attorney Miles Risley notified Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo and other city officials of allegations of impropriety regarding the city’s pending appointment to the port commission.

While the document didn’t specify the allegation, two high-level sources tell KRIS 6 News one council member was approached with a bribe.

That appointment was set to take place Tuesday but was removed from the agenda Friday evening.

The Port of Corpus Christi Authority is governed by a commission of seven members who each serve three-year terms. Three are appointed by the Corpus Christi City Council, three by Nueces County commissioners, and one by San Patricio County commissioners. It is an unpaid position.

One Corpus Christi seat is up for consideration and is back on the agenda for Dec. 14. Port commissioner Richard Valls is the only Corpus Christi appointee currently seeking re-appointment. He was first appointed to the commission in December of 2013.

KRIS 6 News reached out to Valls on Friday via phone and text message, asking him if he attempted to bribe a Corpus Christi city council member to obtain re-appointment to the port commission.

This was Valls response, via text, "any allegation of impropriety must be taken seriously. I would like to comment, but I have no information. In order to comment, I need to know: 1. Who made the allegation? 2. What city council member was supposedly offered something? Thank you."

After asking Valls once again to respond to specific allegations, he has not responded. Following Lerma's statement, KRIS 6 News reached out again for comment. We will let you know if he responds.

Port commission chairman Charlie Zahn says the allegation will have no impact on the commission or port activities and is an issue between the city and its appointee.

“It’s not going to affect the day-to-day operation of the port, it’s not going to affect — the investigation is not going to affect the responsibility we have as port commissioners have to serve the citizens of the Coastal Bend,” Zahn said.

Lerma has served in an elected capacity for over 20 years and served in the United States Marine Corps. He says the oath he takes as an elected official and his former military service prompted him to report the alleged incidents, which he would not expand on.

"Each of these positions requires me to swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, the State of Texas, and now the City of Corpus Christi," Lerma said in an exclusive statement to KRIS 6 News.

Last week City Manager Peter Zanoni confirmed the allegations had been turned over to the Texas Rangers. He says that the city did not investigate the allegations because it was not in the jurisdiction of the city to do so.

"He’s done the right thing and we want to make sure that people respect that and respect the Texas Rangers investigation," Zanoni said.

Last week Zanoni said councilmembers would not be briefed on the details ahead of the vote, per the advice of the city attorney and Corpus Christi Police Chief Mike Markle.

Changes to the council agenda can be made through the end of the day Friday.