By Todd Bensman as published January 8, 2023 by the Center for Immigration Studies
AUSTIN, Texas — Existential troubles continue to mount for the developers of Colony Ridge, who a dozen years ago spawned what has become perhaps the largest illegal-immigrant colonia in America, just northeast of Houston.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed it is actively investigating suspected environmental crimes in the 60-square-mile “Colony Ridge” community of at least 50,000 mostly illegal immigrants created by Terrenos Houston and its owners Trey and John Harris.
The confirmation of an active EPA investigation comes by way of The Daily Wire’s Spencer Lindquist. The news arrives after the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) filed an 11-count Christmastime fraud lawsuit alleging that Terrenos Houston grew Colony Ridge via a massive “illegal land sales scheme”. This refers to the business model that powered Colony Ridge’s stunning — and continuing — growth since about 2012, by charging double-digit interest rates on seller-financed mortgage loans without requiring the standard Social Security numbers, income tax return histories, and credit scores that any bank would require. Then mercilessly foreclosing on the flood-prone bottomland properties and flipping them to new alleged immigrant victims.
That action seeks to make financially whole tens of thousands of the buyers.
The Harris family has called the allegations “complete bullshit” and will contest them as the case unfolds in a Houston federal courtroom.
It is noteworthy that these federal activities are becoming public just weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott wrapped up special legislative sessions on Colony Ridge with a $40 million state police surge addressing only its well-known general lawlessness, but not anything addressing these other locally well-reported issues.
That might be because Terrenos Houston and the Harris family, which gives millions in political donations, staved off more draconian state-level ideas with an effective media spin campaign that inaccurately threw into question earlier law enforcement testimonies about Mexican cartel presence and terrible new kinds violent regional crime, like a 2023 massacre of a Honduran family in next-door San Jacinto County, just over the county line from Colony Ridge.
Now we learn that the EPA also is “actively investigating” the illegal immigrant community because, after DOJ and CFPB dropped their Christmas lawsuit bomb, Lindquist simply called the EPA’s Region 6 press office and asked if reported rumors were true that it, too, had an open investigation. The press office confirmed it did but couldn’t say more, to be expected when agents are out obviously knocking on doors.
“Due to the nature of this investigation, the EPA would be unable to provide comment on the investigation’s exact nature,” Joe Robledo, EPA press officer for Region 6, told Lindquist.
The EPA’s Criminal Investigations Division
For those who might not know, the EPA fields a criminal investigations division whose special agents look into “the most significant and egregious violations of environmental laws which pose significant threats to human health and the environment”, its website says. Those found guilty of environmental crimes face prison terms, fines, or both.
“Typical enforcement areas we investigate include illegal disposal of hazardous waste, illegal discharges to waters of the U.S., illegal emissions into the air and other associated general crimes such as false statements, fraud, and conspiracy,” another part of the website states.
The public may not be privy to what exactly the EPA is investigating. But Colony Ridge and Terrenos Houston have been under fire for their environmental and water management practices, Lindquist’s news dispatch noted.
One local researcher, Bob Rehak, had been fruitlessly reporting about these for years on a website called Reduce Flooding, its allegations largely ignored.
Indeed, during the special legislative sessions about Colony Ridge, lawmaker after lawmaker — Republicans and Democrats alike — poured cold water on the proceedings after a crisis communications firm planted false stories in liberal media outlets questioning a host of accurately reported ills in the colonia.
“This is much ado about nothing,” state senator Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, said at one point. “I think it’s a complete waste of time.”
State representative Jay Dean, a Republican from Longview in East Texas asked John Harris at one point: “You make somebody mad? What the hell happened? Why are we even here doing this?”
“A good question,” agreed Texas Monthly’s Forrest Wilder in one of the planted Colony Ridge storylines, to the effect that all was well but for racist anti-immigrant conspiracy theorists causing trouble for immigrants. “But not one that any of the Republicans were interested in exploring.”
All of this incuriosity pretzel-twisted around and past the quite real unexplored fact that Rehak had extensively documented environmental concerns at the development on his website, asserting for instance that Colony Ridge had dumped tens of thousands of gallons of fecal-contaminated water into local streams that flow into Lake Houston, the primary source of Houston’s drinking water, and that the development flouted drainage regulations in ways that sent fouled water into drinking supplies during flooding.
The company always swears it doesn’t do that, or sell flood-prone land. But in one of many ironic twists in this saga, Colony Ridge flooded during an October spin-tour junket by Terrenos Houston designed to convince state legislators (apparently attended by Texas Monthly’s writer) ahead of the special session that Colony Ridge’s reported problems were either greatly exaggerated or fabricated.
“Colony Ridge taught the world about karma on Thursday,” Rehak wrote on his website about the inconvenient flooding that occurred for that spin tour. “I doubt flooded areas were on the tour.”
Pushing Through the Spin Zone
The Daily Wire’s Lindquist stands as singular for his relentless reporting to push past inaccurate planted critiques of his work, investigating and confirming the considerable Liberty County rumor mill output that always seems to elude state lawmakers and other reporters.
That he even bothered to put in a call to the EPA’s Region 6 press office attests to Linquist’s doggedness in first raising all of the issues to a broader national audience of obvious interest far outside of Texas.
The New York Post has reported that the IRS and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have open investigations on Colony Ridge’s developers and operations. Both agencies field criminal investigators.
It remains to be seen whether one of Lindquist’s most hard-hitting investigative pieces interests still other federal investigative agencies. On December 14, Lindquist published a story alleging that Colony Ridge’s developers directed more than $16 million in taxpayer funds to cement paving contractors with direct financial and business connections to family members who profited.
One thing is for sure in the federal government actions taken so far: Colony Ridge and the surrounding communities it has impacted qualified for characterization as a federal law enforcement “no-go zone” for all its short life of 12 years.
But it certainly is no longer that.