FBI searches bar owner’s apartment in corruption probe

The station linked the search of Mario Azodinia’s apartment to the recent conviction of William-Paul Thomas, a former top aide to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to accept a bribe -of-wine.

On Friday night, ABC 13 reported that the FBI had “confirmed that he was lawfully present at an apartment in the Bayou Bend towers conducting court-authorized activity” and said officers were likely there to serve a search warrant.

A spokesperson for the FBI office in Houston did not respond to a phone call or email Friday afternoon. Azodinia and a lawyer who has previously represented him in civil cases did not immediately return phone calls.

Azodinia and Thomas were not specifically linked in the Federal Court papers, but the broadcaster linked the search to Thomas by quoting an unnamed third party, who said Azodinia himself told him the cases were linked.

Azodinia has not been arrested or charged with any crime.

Thomas, who worked as a council liaison for Mayor Sylvester Turner, pleaded guilty on July 25 to conspiring to take a bribe after discovering he had accepted money to use his position to help a bar owner pass a building inspection.

The bar owner hoped to open a bar or nightclub as a restaurant and offered Thomas more than $13,000 to help him pass inspections, according to unsealed court documents. Thomas contacted a fire official and “lobbied other officials” to approve the permit, according to the documents. He was then paid an undisclosed sum of money.

Thomas retired on July 26 for health reasons, he told Turner in an email. On the day Thomas’ plea came to light, Turner said in a statement that he was unaware of the allegations or charges.

The charging documents against Thomas refer to the person who offered him a bribe only as “BUSINESSMAN 1”. The charging documents said the businessman owned two bars and nightclubs in Houston.

Azodinia is the CEO of Capstone Houston Group, a private equity firm that owns the nightclubs and bars including Seaside Lounge, Engine Room Houston and Rose Gold Houston, among other businesses, according to Azodinia’s website, mariosmoneyteam.com .

Thomas is expected to be sentenced in November by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen, according to court records.

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About James K. Bonnette

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