Colony Ridge Board Awarded At Least $16 Million In Taxpayer Funds To Company With Ties To Developer, Leadership
The Daily Wire

The developers of Colony Ridge, the controversial Texas community that has become a magnet for illegal immigrants, have used a powerful local government board to award more than $16 million in taxpayer funds to a private paving company with direct connections to family members, raising concerns about whether board members have benefitted from their positions.

Colony Ridge developer William “Trey” Harris and others connected to the development sit on the board of a local government entity created on behalf of the development that has the power to tax residents and allocate taxpayer funds to address community needs. The board awarded taxpayer funds to a paving company with financial connections to the developers, according to public documents reviewed by The Daily Wire.

The Daily Wire has previously reported on how the company’s marketing and lending operations appear to be geared towards attracting illegal immigrants, who have flocked to the rapidly growing development north of Houston. Amid outcry from various state and federal officials, including the entire Republican Congressional delegation from Texas, as well as investigations from media outlets including The New York Times and Fox News, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called for two special sessions of the Texas legislature to address issues pertaining to the development, where cheap plots of land are marketed exclusively in Spanish to individuals without a social security number.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has criticized local legislators, writing that two lawmakers were responsible for legislation that he says allowed Colony Ridge to “act virtually as its own city.” Paxton also said he was “beyond disappointed” in the two elected officials for “apparently working to enrich specific developers at enormous expense to the rest of the public and reducing the quality of life for their own constituents.”

The scrutiny has been focused largely on Harris, who not only owns the Colony Ridge development but also leads the municipal management board overseeing Colony Ridge.

READ MORE: Inside Colony Ridge: The ‘Fastest Growing Development’ In The U.S. Is A Magnet For Illegal Immigrants

Documents reviewed by The Daily Wire show that the board unanimously voted to award multi-million dollar contracts to Liberty Paving LLC. Liberty Paving has direct ties to John Harris, who is Trey Harris’ brother and co-owns Colony Ridge with Trey Harris. John Harris is the president and director of T-Rex Management, the company that manages Liberty Paving.

But Liberty Paving also has ties to another board member, Savannah Crihfield, who voted to award the company a multi-million dollar contract. Liberty Paving lists CH&P Management as its registered agent, the entity that is usually compensated in return for receiving official documentation such as tax notices and court papers. Savannah Crihfield, the secretary of the management board that voted to award the contracts, is the president of CH&P Management.

Crihfield’s firm appears to be deeply intertwined with Colony Ridge — CH&P is listed as the registered agent of Colony Ridge Development LLC and manages the development’s property owner’s association. What’s more, T-Rex Management Inc. and CH&P Management LLC share the same address, according to business records.

It appears that Crihfield is more than just a business associate of the Harris brothers — obituaries in the local newspaper indicate that Crihfield may be related to the developers. One obituary indicates that John and Trey Harris are siblings of Renae Neal, and another obituary identifies Crihfield as “Savannah Neal-Crihfield,” listing her along with Renae Neal, John, Harris, and Trey Harris as “devoted family” of the deceased. Neither Crihfield nor the Harris brothers responded to inquiries on the relationship.

Records show that the ties between Colony Ridge and Liberty Paving run deep. Liberty Paving’s publicly listed executive, Patrick Thiel, sits on the board of Colony Ridge’s utility board, which similarly has the ability to allocate tax revenues.

Multi-million dollar contracts were awarded to Liberty Paving by the management board on at least two different occasions. A contract for more than $9.88 million with Liberty Paving was unanimously approved by the management board on September 12th, 2022. The minutes for the board meeting reflect that both Thiel and John Harris were in attendance. Liberty Paving was identified as a “low bidder” for the paving and drainage contract, although no other bidders were disclosed.

The two boards — the utility board and municipal management board — have worked in the past year to merge into one entity. That process itself has been facilitated by agents of Colony Ridge.

Just two months after the $9.88 million contract was approved, the two government boards unanimously voted to approve an “engagement letter” for “legislative work” with a legal firm to consolidate the two entities. The letter was presented by attorney Laken Jenkins Kilgore of law firm Coats Rose, which Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris has paid over $100,000 for lobbying services.

Both boards voted on the initiative on the same day, November 14th, 2022, with each passing unanimously. In the management board meeting, the motion to approve the engagement letter was initiated by Savannah Crihfield, while the motion in the corresponding utility board meeting  was initiated by the board’s president, Ryan Crihfield. Ryan is Savannah’s husband.

Members of the two boards appear to have a close relationship. Management board meetings minutes from February 8th, 2021 state that Thiel, who is on the utility board, seconded management board business items even though he is not listed as a member on the management board.

Roughly two months after both boards voted to approve their consolidation, a pay estimate to Liberty Paving for more than $2.08 million was unanimously approved by the management board of directors, though Savannah Crihfield was absent. Both Thiel and Ryan Crihfield were in attendance at the meeting.

At a later meeting on March 27th, 2023, another contract was awarded to Liberty Paving, for over $6.1 million after the management board again voted unanimously to approve it. The same board also voted to approve four pay estimates to Liberty Paving totaling $4,986,446 according to published records from the same March 27th, 2023 meeting. Both Thiel and Ryan Crihfield were present at the March management board meeting, the minutes reported.

The contracts amount to $16,048,227, with $7,067,029 thus far approved in the pay estimates. None of the meeting minutes record disclosures of conflicts of interest, or recusals by any of the voting members.

The Colony Ridge management board, formally known as Liberty County Municipal Management District No. 1, was first created in 2017 when State Representative Ernest Bailes authored the resolution creating that district and passed it through the Texas State House.

Bailes appears to be deeply financially intertwined with Colony Ridge. His campaign received $1,800 from Colony Ridge developer Trey Harris. He also received $9,000 from the political action committee associated with Entergy, the energy company that services the six subdivisions that comprise Colony Ridge. Bailes received an additional $7,500 from the political action committee for Coats Rose, the law firm that provides legal services for the management board and was paid by Trey Harris for lobbying services.

Liberty Paving’s Thiel, who is a member of the utility board, formerly worked as the principal of R&T Ellis, the earthwork and clearing company that undertook a massive project for Colony Ridge after “Patrick Thiel at R&T Ellis convinced Randy Ellis that this was a great project for them,” according to an industry newsletter showcased by the company.

Randy Ellis, who is a cousin of Bailes, owns R&T Ellis. Bailes represents the area that includes Colony Ridge in the state legislature, and Ellis is one of his largest political donors.

It is not clear that anyone other than Liberty Paving has benefitted from the management district awards. Trey Harris assured the public in a 2017 interview that money collected by the management board would not be used to enrich Colony Ridge, himself, or any of his associates.

When asked whether the management board was being used to recoup money he put into the development, Harris said “not at all.”

“The [management district] MMD that I am proposing will only help support the county with expenses associated with the growth within that MMD,” Harris said, referencing Colony Ridge’s management board, adding that “absolutely no money” will be “going back to Colony Ridge or Trey Harris or any of my associates.”

In order to be a member of either board, Texas law requires that an individual meet certain criteria that can include owning property within the district, or being the owner or agent of a company that owns property within the district. The Colony Ridge developer owns a substantial portion of land within the district.

A representative of Trey Harris and John Harris did not respond to an interview request for this story. Crihfield and Thiel also did not return requests for comment. 

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Colony Ridge Board Awarded At Least $16 Million In Taxpayer Funds To Company With Ties To Developer, Leadership