DALLAS (CN) – The defunct Dallas County Schools bus agency sued its former superintendent and a stop-arm vendor, claiming they orchestrated a massive pay-to-play bribery conspiracy that bilked taxpayers out of $125 million.
DCS’s dissolution committee filed a lawsuit against former superintendent Dr. Rick Sorrells, vendor Force Multiplier Solutions Inc., owner Robert Leonard and 11 others in Dallas County District Court on Friday, alleging Sorrells was paid bribes in exchange for awarding lucrative agency stop-arm camera contracts.
Voters approved the dissolution of DCS last year after allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement surfaced.
Tasked with providing school bus services to independent school districts in the county, DCS was soon after divvied up and its largest customer, the Dallas Independent School District, purchased the agency’s administrative building and several hundred buses to transport its own students.
“And when Dallas County Schools could no longer service the massive debt it owed to Force Multiplier Solutions, Dr. Sorrells and Robert Leonard orchestrated yet another scheme to rob Dallas County Schools by arranging an insider sale-and-leaseback of four of Dallas County Schools’ bus service centers,” the 37-page complaint states. “Following the exposure of the conspiracy and fraud, Force Multiplier Solutions, through its owner Robert Leonard, hastily transferred substantially all of its assets to another entity.”
The lawsuit comes three months after Sorrells admitted to federal prosecutors that he took over $3 million in bribes. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and is awaiting sentencing.
Sorrells faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. His Maserati GHI, Porsche Cayenne, over $66,000 in jewelry and $12,000 in bank accounts could be seized by federal officials.
DCS’s dissolution committee claims Leonard transferred about $2 million in bribes and kickbacks through several pass-through companies controlled by co-defendant Slater Swartwood Sr. to Sorrells. Swartwood has already pleaded guilty to federal money laundering conspiracy charges, according to the lawsuit.
“Beginning in 2010, Robert Leonard told Dr. Sorrells that he thought Dr. Sorrells was underpaid and instructed Sorrells to open a company, Allegro Research and Consulting, in a family member’s name to receive the first of the bribery payments,” the complaint states. “The first bribe corresponded with DCS’s first purchase of cameras from FMS or another entity controlled by Robert Leonard. These payments were sent to a law firm, which then funneled the payments to Sorrels.”
Swartwood, Leonard and Sorrells “created sham loan, consulting or real estate agreements” to make the bribes look legitimate, the dissolution committee claims.
Telephone calls to a number listed as Force Multiplier Solutions’ headquarters in Metairie, Louisiana, was not answered Monday afternoon. Sorrells’ attorney did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
DCS’s dissolution committee is represented by Stephanie D. Curtis, Mark A. Castillo and Christopher L. Harbin with Curtis Castillo in Dallas.
The bus agency’s stop-arm cameras were controversial long before the agency folded. Several drivers sued the agency in Dallas County District Court in October 2016, claiming they were illegally ticketed through the cameras. They argued photographic enforcement and administrative adjudication of school bus stop-arm violations was never authorized by the Texas Legislature and that bills that would have legalized the practice failed in four consecutive legislative sessions.