DALLAS (CN) – A Dallas federal jury punished federal prosecutors Friday for repeated mistakes at trial when it acquitted Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price on seven corruption counts while remaining hung on four others.
After eight days of deliberations, the jury acquitted Price, 66, on bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy charges while failing to reach a verdict on tax fraud charges.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn declared a mistrial on the tax fraud charges and gave prosecutors one month to decide whether to retry Price.
Price is likely the most well-known politician to ever be prosecuted by the federal government in Dallas. His confrontational style and focus on the issues of race and economic equality have made him a controversial figure, but his constituents in south Dallas have comfortably re-elected him for three decades.
His acquittal is a stunning defeat for the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI, who have spent a decade investigating and prosecuting Price.
Judge Lynn urged jurors to “rest with your verdict” and resist talking to reporters about the verdict, but that it was their right to do so if they choose.
The jury also acquitted Price’s assistant, Dapheny Fain, 55, on a lying to federal agents count and conspiracy count.
Prosecutors failed to convince the jury that Price pocketed more than $950,000 in cash, cars and real estate from political consultant Kathy Nealy in exchange for her clients’ bids for county contracts, and more than $200,000 in cash from a clothing store operated by Fain and an art gallery operated by his friend Karen Manning. Nealy will be tried separately from Price and Fain.
Price has insisted the money was from loans he made to Nealy, a close friend, and that large amounts of cash seized by the FBI at his home belonged to Fain, who purportedly kept it there to prevent her from spending it on shopping.
Dressed in a brown suit and bowtie, Price smiled broadly Friday as the verdict was read and hugged his defense team. Surrounded by a large scrum of reporters, Price and Fain proceeded to walk back to work at the Dallas County Administration Building.
Price’s attorney, Shirley Baccus-Lobel of Dallas, told reporters she expected the acquittal.
“That does not mean my heart was not beating 100 miles per hour,” she said.
John Parker, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, thanked jurors for their “extraordinary service” during eight weeks of trial and two weeks of deliberations.
“I will be convening with the prosecution team over the next several days regarding where we go from here, consistent with the court’s timeline,” he said in a statement.
Prosecutors stumbled in the final weeks of trial, admitting to several failures to turn over evidence to the defense.
Judge Lynn called the failures “terribly inappropriate and very disappointing.”
She also warned prosecutors before closing arguments she was probably going to throw out the mail fraud charges even if the jury found Price guilty, saying it was “virtually impossible” for the jury to convict based on the poor connection prosecutors made with the alleged crimes and the U.S. Postal Service.
The defense capitalized on the mistakes, accusing federal prosecutors and investigators of incompetence and dishonesty. They argued the prosecution’s parade of testimony and evidence lacked a “smoking gun” showing a conspiracy to bribe, and that the case is built largely on circumstantial financial records.
The defense also attacked the prosecution’s star witness, consultant Christian Campbell, who took a plea deal in exchange for his testimony. They told jurors that Campbell admitted to being a liar while on the stand.