Dallas Political-Corruption Trial Ends in Smoking Ruins

DALLAS (CN) — After several embarrassing missteps at trial, federal prosecutors said late Friday they will not retry Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price for tax fraud after a jury acquitted him of several other corruption charges.

U.S. Attorney John Parker said that seeking a retrial on the four counts of tax fraud “will not serve the interests of justice.”

Price, 67, was acquitted in April on seven bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy charges; the jury hung on the tax fraud counts. The acquittal was a stunning defeat for Parker’s office and the FBI, which spent a decade investigating and prosecuting Price.

They failed to persuade the jury that Price took 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 run by Price’s assistant Dapheny Fain and an art gallery run by his friend Karen Manning.

Fain, 55, was tried with Price on one count of lying to federal agents and one count of conspiracy. She too was acquitted.

The defense said Price’s money was from loans he made to Nealy, a close friend, and that large amounts of cash seized by the FBI at his home in 2011 belonged to Fain, who claimed she kept it there to prevent her from spending it on shopping.

Price is the most prominent politician to be federally prosecuted in Dallas. His confrontational style and focus on issues of race and economic equality have made him controversial, but his constituents in south Dallas have comfortably re-elected him for three decades. His supporters have said Price was targeted because he is black.

Price said Friday evening that about halfway through his nine week-long trial he forgave the federal government for targeting him.

“God showed me favor,” Price told The Dallas Morning News. “We owe it to continue to try to make the system that we’ve inherited better, and that’s what I work to do every day.”

Nealy was to be tried separately from Price and Fain. She will no longer be prosecuted, the U.S. attorney said.

“Although I am disappointed in the outcome of this case, my responsibility is larger than the consideration of my subjective views,” Parker said in a statement. “I must objectively consider the totality of circumstances that the prosecution now faces. … My decision today is fundamentally different than the initial decision to seek this indictment and in no way reflects on the soundness of that earlier decision.”

Parker said that knowing what he knows now, the “reasonable, good-faith beliefs we had at the time of indictment” are “substantially diminished.”

“The evidence and facts as known at the time of indictment demanded that this office pursue this case,” he said. “However, while it is our responsibility to seek justice when presented with such evidence, it is never our responsibility to secure a conviction at all costs.”

Parker’s office had numerous embarrassing errors in the final weeks of the trial, acknowledging several failures to turn over evidence to the defense.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn called the failures “terribly inappropriate and very disappointing.”

Price’s attorneys capitalized on the mistakes, accusing federal investigators and prosecutors of being incompetent and dishonest. They said prosecutors’ long line of witnesses and evidence lacked a “smoking gun” showing a conspiracy to bribe, and that the case was built largely on circumstantial financial records.

Judge Lynn was so unimpressed with the prosecution that she warned before closing arguments that she was probably going to throw out the mail fraud charges even if the jury found Price guilty. She said it was “virtually impossible” for the jury to convict based on the poor connection prosecutors made between the alleged crimes and the U.S. Postal Service.

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