Mayoral candidate investigated for alleged funding improprieties

By Andy Sevilla

A criminal complaint filed last week alleges Kyle mayoral candidate Brad Pickett unlawfully accepted a political contribution in another person’s name, as well as a campaign donation by a business prohibited under state election law.

City officials said the complaint, filed April 21, was referred to the Texas Rangers for further investigation by Kyle Police Captain Pedro Hernandez. The state law enforcement agency accepted the case on April 23.

The alleged improprieties surround two of the three campaign contributions Pickett received between Jan. 1 and April 10. 

On Feb. 25 Pickett’s campaign took in $1,500 from PGI Investment LLC, a company that owns property in southern Kyle where a truck stop was twice proposed and twice denied by the city council since 2012.

The complaint alleges Pickett received a contribution from a company whose partners are involved in several corporations.

Campaign finance law, governed by the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC), does not allow corporate money to fund candidates’ election efforts. The TEC Advisory Opinion No. 383 also says a limited liability company owned in whole or in part by a corporation is subject to those restrictions.

Pickett said the Texas Ethics Commission clerk advised him on Friday to return the money as “a good way to correct the issue,” he said in an email.

On Monday, however, Pickett said he went to the state ethics commission office where an attorney advised that “so long as none of the principal owners own a corporation that is acting above the LLC,” he could accept the money. 

“In other words using the LLC as a shell (limited liability company) of the greater corporation,” he said in the email. 

According to the Texas Secretary of State office, PGI partners Asifali Karowalia, Iqbal Budhwani and Vikas Anand have a collective interest in several corporations. 

Pickett maintains that since PGI Investments LLC is not owned in whole or in part by a corporation, it seems the company is allowed to contribute per state rules. According to Pickett, Robert Mannis, an ethics commission attorney, told him it is acceptable for individual owners of PGI to own individual corporations, the company just cannot have any corporate responsibilities to any company over them. 

The complaint also alleges that Pickett received a political contribution from one individual, but in the name of another.

Pickett accepted a $2,500 contribution from Candace (Candi) Funderburk on March 4, according to his latest campaign finance report. Funderburk is an anesthesiology nurse at Byrd Regional Medical Center, the same hospital where anesthesiology doctor Glen Hurlston works at in Leesville, Louisiana. 

Hurlston is suing Kyle and Police Chief Jeff Barnett. 

In a civil rights suit, Hurlston alleges Barnett, then police chief of Princeton, and another top cop in that town conducted a campaign of harassment against the doctor and orchestrated his arrest as Hurlston’s estranged wife was having an affair with Barnett.

Pickett said he did not know Funderburk, but knew she was friend of Hurlston. He said the Hays Free Press would have to contact Funderburk to find out why she contributed to his campaign.

In an April 25 phone interview, Funderburk said she did not have to answer questions regarding her contribution to Pickett’s campaign.

When asked if Hurlston provided her with $2,500 to donate to Pickett, she said the reporter would have to ask the doctor personally. When pressed, Funderburk said she did not have to answer whether she made the contribution from her own personal funds, before abruptly ending the conversation.

Hurlston, who also contributed to Pickett’s campaign, did not return multiple calls seeking comment. Pickett said Monday that Hurlston also contributed $2,500 to his campaign on April 11, one day after the most recent filing deadline. 

Pickett said he does not know Hurlston well, but spoke with him a few times before his mayoral candidacy. 

“He sought me out,” Pickett said, referring to Hurlston. “He called about some things questioning Chief (Jeff) Barnett.”

That was during Pickett’s time on the city council in the 2012-2013 time frame. Picket said Hurlston also contacted several other council members and Kyle City Manager Lanny Lambert.

Pickett said he did not see any problem with accepting Hurlston’s and Funderburk’s contributions because Kyle’s city attorney told him the lawsuit is without merit.

“My responsibility is to the citizens of Kyle, not to any one donor. There are no stipulations or anything of that sort [from accepting that money],” Pickett said in a phone interview Monday.

“When (Hurlston) heard of my candidacy, he said he had been watching Kyle from afar and thought I was a man of principle and that I would always do what is best for the citizens of Kyle and wanted to contribute $2,500,” Pickett said. 

As soon as he heard about the contributions, Pickett said he spoke with Barnett to discuss the issue.

“I think Barnett has done a great job in our city,” he said. “I backed up our chief when this [issue]came to executive session. I would not jeopardize him or Kyle because of this contribution.”

He also said he would recuse himself from any future decision about Barnett’s job if it came to council in any way.

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