DALLAS (CN) – The disgraced former superintendent of the Dallas County Schools bus agency was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in federal prison for accepting over $3 million in bribes in exchange for awarding $70 million in school bus stop-arm camera contracts that ultimately bankrupted the agency.
Wearing a black suit, Rick Sorrells, 63, was silent as the sentence was read. Moments earlier, Sorrells wept as he begged U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn for mercy.
“I have made horrific decisions,” he said. “I am sincerely sorry for the actions I took that harmed the taxpayers of Dallas.”
Sorrells pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.
Describing himself as a “yes-man” and “weak,” Sorrells told the judge he was unable to say no to vendor Bob Leonard and quickly got in too deep into the scam. Sorrells said he was “relieved” when federal agents eventually raided his home because that meant he could finally tell the truth.
Lynn was not swayed by Sorrells’ pleas, saying he is the “most culpable” of the defendants in the scandal. She expressed anger at Sorrells’ plea agreement capping his maximum sentence at 10 years, stating she has sent people to federal prison for much longer for similar crimes. The judge ordered Sorrells to pay $125 million in restitution.
“I do not forgive you for what you have done,” Lynn said. “You were supposed to be a faithful servant to your community.”
The massive contracts Sorrells awarded in exchange for the bribes led to the insolvency of DCS, which was tasked with bussing children from school districts within Dallas County. The agency’s collapse forced its largest customer, the Dallas Independent School District, to purchase much of its assets to bus its own students to and from school. Voters ultimately approved the dissolution of DSC last year.
Federal prosecutors accused Sorrells of spending the money on expensive jewelry, Porsche and Maserati sports cars, trips and an apartment in New Orleans.
Northern Texas U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox blasted Sorrells for “simultaneously crippling the agency he was tapped to lead” and undermining the public’s trust.
“The citizens of Dallas deserve better and they should rest assured that we are committed to rooting out public corruption wherever we find it,” she said in a statement.
Lynn ordered Sorrells to report to the Bureau of Prisons on Sept. 17, respecting his request for up to 45 days to spend with his family before beginning his sentence.
In April, former Dallas mayor and city councilman Dwaine Caraway was sentenced to 56 months in prison and ordered to pay over $500,000 in restitution for his role in the scandal.
He pleaded guilty to one count of bribery and one count of tax evasion for accepting $450,000 in bribes. Lynn told Caraway during his sentencing that she was “disgusted” by his conduct. Caraway told the judge he was sorry for letting “a lot of people down.”
The stop-arm cameras themselves were criticized for years for allegedly handing out illegal tickets. Five drivers sued DCS in Dallas County District Court in 2016, claiming photographic enforcement and administrative adjudication of school bus stop-arm violations was never authorized by the Texas Legislature.