Former Hempstead mayor headed to prison

The former Mayor of Hempstead is headed to prison after pleading guilty to a first degree felony of misapplication of fiduciary property. Michael Wolfe pleaded guilty in the middle of trial and was sentenced to six years in prison.

“It was important for me that we send a message to not only the elected officials and the people of Waller county, but to everyone that Waller County is not going to tolerate elected officials who are in it for themselves and their friends,” said Waller County District Attorney Sean Whittmore.

Whittmore said this case actually began with a routine audit in 2018. That audit raised questions as to why certain people were not paying their utility bills, yet their service was never disconnected. As KPRC 2 Investigates previously reported, Wolfe and his daughter were among those with delinquent bills. Wolfe eventually paid the overdue balances.

“You know, when you get over $3,000 delinquent in your electric bill, you’d expect that bill to be cut off,” said Whittmore. “In this case what we had was that was just the tip of the iceberg.”

More questions were raised about spending on a city credit card, but eventually charges stemming from these investigations were dismissed. Instead, prosecutors took Wolfe to trial over millions of dollars in road work charged to the city.

“My final total for all the invoices was $2,100,000,” said prosecutor Bennett Dodson. “Our theory of the case was the system was set up as such where basically everything at city hall flowed through the mayor.”

Dodson and his co-counsel, Elliot Beatty, said the mayor was the sole approval for this work, which went to a single vendor.

“When you look at the pattern of these invoices over time and where the work was being done, a there was absolutely no supervision of the road work,” said Dodson. “The city had paid for roads that still don’t exist.”

Beatty said there were also invoices for work that was never completed and it appeared these invoices were kept below an amount that would trigger state bid laws.

“Instead of presenting these invoices to city council, he would walk them into accounts payable and accounts payable would cut a check,” said Beatty. “If a bid if a project costs more than $50,000, it must be bid out by law. There were invoices for $49,800, $48,900; very suspicious amounts for an invoice.”

Wolfe initially pleaded not guilty to charges of misapplication of fiduciary property. Trial in the case began this week with prosecutors calling seven witnesses to the stand. Prosecutors rested their case and the defense was scheduled to begin presenting its case to the jury when Wolfe changed his mind and pleaded guilty.

“He can’t go out there and say, ‘well, the jury got it wrong or the judge got it wrong, I’m still innocent.’ No, you admitted to that conduct,” said Dodson.

Whittmore took over as Waller County district attorney in December, long after the investigation into Wolfe was launched and charges filed. He said he is still reviewing whether charges can be filed against the vendor paid for this work. KPRC 2 is not naming the vendor since no charges have been filed.

“When you’re talking about $2 million, that’s a big hit and the people of Hempstead will never get that money back,” said Whittmore. “That money is gone.”

About the Author

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”