Monthly Archives: April 2019

More than 4,000 parents who had entrusted their children to administrators at the Varnett Charter School are set to receive payments totaling more than $600,000, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick along with Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI, Special Agent in Charge Neil Sanchez from the Department of Education – Office of Inspector General (ED-OIG) and Acting Special Agent in Charge Sarah Kull of IRS – Criminal Investigation (CI).

Marian Annette Cluff, 70, was the founding superintendent of The Varnett Public School, a charter school with three locations in Houston, while her husband – Alsie Cluff Jr., 69, was the facilities and operations manager. They pleaded guilty Aug. 25, 2017, to mail fraud and conspiracy to commit tax evasion charges for embezzling millions of dollars from the school.

In June 2018, U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon sentenced Marian Cluff to 120 months imprisonment and to pay a $295,596 fine, while her husband was ordered to serve a 36-month term of imprisonment and pay a $88,678 fine. More importantly, however, was that both were also ordered to pay a total of $4,443,755.69 in restitution.

In less than a year following the sentencing hearing, the Financial Litigation Unit (FLU) of the U.S. Attorney’s Office – with the substantial assistance of the U.S. Marshal Service (USMS) – collected the total restitution ordered in the case.

In an amended order issued in March 2019, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen ordered that $604,889.76 of that amount be distributed to the identified victim parents of the school. The U.S. District Clerk’s Office has indicated that restitution payments to the parents will be handled on an expedited basis.

At the time of the sentencing, the court heard that the couple embezzled millions of dollars in funds that were intended for the operation and function of the charter school and its programs. These included “money orders” parents had submitted to pay for school field trips and student fundraisers, such as chocolate sales, book fairs, school carnivals and other school-related activities.

The Cluffs used their positions of trust and authority and diverted and concealed money received from vendors of the school, insurance companies and federal agencies into the off-book accounts for the purpose of diverting money intended for the charter school for their own personal use and benefit. The Cluffs concealed the accounts from the charter school office manager, the school’s external accountant and their income tax preparer.

Testimony at sentencing also revealed the Cluffs conspired to commit tax evasion of approximately $1,827,477.55 in tax, interest and penalties owed to the IRS. The Cluffs did not pay income taxes on the money they received as a result of the scheme.

The Cluffs were ordered to surrender to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in August 2018 and are currently serving their sentences.

Today’s announcement comes as National Crime Victim Rights Week (NCVRW) draws to a close. Every April, the Office for Victims of Crime leads communities throughout the country in their annual observances of NCVRW. This year’s theme – Honoring Our Past. Creating Hope for the Future – celebrated the progress made by those before us as we look to a future of crime victim services that is even more inclusive, accessible and trauma-informed.


Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor to Announce Criminal Charges in Illegal Street Racing.

What: On March 17, 2019, a crowd of people were gathered to watch an illegal street car race on a public road in northwest Harris County, when one of the drivers struck two pedestrians causing serious injuries.

Sheriff’s Office investigators worked with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to gather evidence, which has culminated in the filing of felony criminal charges.

The illegal street racing incident occurred at a time when race enthusiasts were gathered in the region for the legally sanctioned TX2K auto racing event in Baytown.

Who: Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Assistant District Attorney Sean Teare, HCSO Capt. Quincy Whitaker

When: Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at 9 a.m.


Are you a “restaurant camper”? Do you go out to dinner and then spend hours sitting at the table chatting? Restaurants should never rush guests to finish their meal, but guests should be aware of the impact their stay has on the staff and other diners. The fewer tables the restaurant turns over, the less revenue the business generates. “When you receive the receipt, you should leave,” says Monica Lewis from the Monica Lewis School Of Etiquette. “You shouldn’t stay no more than 15 to 20 minutes after the receipt.” Also, it’s important to be clear at the beginning of the meal how the ticket will be split, to make things easy on the wait staff. At the very most, be prepared to leave the restaurant after an hour and a half. On average, meals should last 45 to 90 minutes. “You shouldn’t wait until the server asks you a question like, ‘Do you need anything else?’,” says Darian Lewis from the Monica Lewis School Of Etiquette. “You want to pay attention to those cues the servers are giving you.” Staying past your welcome not only hurts the restaurant financially, but the servers in particular. “It really affects the way they make their money,” says Brandi Bowie, co-owner of the Taste Bar + Kitchen with her husband Don. “They live off those tips, so you want to turn and burn those tables.” As a restaurant owner, losing wait staff can be a problem if your atmosphere is too welcoming. Guests staying too long can mean servers quit to go to other restaurants that have quicker turnover. At the end of the day, enjoy your meal and tip well, but be courteous to restaurant owners and wait staff.


Investigators have charged a local man with murder and tampering with a corpse, after he reported his wife missing from their Katy area home.

On March 19, 2019, Jay Patrick Hammersley (04/04/75), reported his wife, Mara Vestal, 29, had left and not returned to their residence in the 20200 block of Golden Mesa in the Sun Down Glen subdivision.

He told investigators Vestal had left 2 to 3 weeks earlier with her belongings.

Investigators interviewed Hammersley during the course of the investigation, and he admitted to killing his wife and disposing of her body.

He is currently being held on a $105,000 bond in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Detention Facility.


Crime Stoppers and the Houston Police Department’s Homicide Division need the public’s assistance locating Fugitive Gabriel Rangel who is wanted for Manslaughter.

On Wednesday, March 13, 2019, at approximately 11:15 a.m., the victim was shot by Gabriel Rangel in a motel room located in the 12900 block of the Northwest Freeway in Houston, Texas. During the incident, the fugitive was playing with a handgun when he pointed the gun in the victim’s direction and shot him once. The suspect and three additional people transported the victim to a local hospital. The victim was transported in an older model tan Cadillac. The victim later died as a result of his injuries.

Fugitive Gabriel Rangel is a Hispanic male, 17 years old, with brown eyes and short black hair. Rangel may also be using the name Gabriel Calixto and is known to frequent the Spring Branch area.

Crime Stoppers may pay up to $5,000 for information leading to the charging and/or arrest of the suspects in this case. Information may be reported by calling (713) 222-TIPS (8477), submitted online at or through the Crime Stoppers mobile app. All tipsters remain anonymous.


Mayor details new option for phasing in 29% pay hike for firefighters

HOUSTON – Mayor Sylvester Turner sent a letter today to Houston firefighters’ union President Patrick “Marty” Lancton detailing a new option to minimize layoffs of firefighters and municipal workers while enacting the 29 percent pay increase that voters approved for firefighters in the November 2018 vote on Proposition B.

The mayor has said previously that immediate implementation of Prop B, which came with no funding source, would trigger hundreds of layoffs because as the city balances its annual budget, it must cut expenses to pay for the salary hike.

Mayor Turner has offered to phase in the higher pay over five years without layoffs.

His letter today offers a 3.5-year phase-in that would significantly reduce, but not eliminate, the need for layoffs.