DALLAS (CN) – The former superintendent of the failed Dallas County Schools bus agency admitted Monday to taking $3 million in bribes in exchange for handing out $70 million in school bus stop-arm camera contracts.
Rick Sorrells will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, according to court filings.
He faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors want to seize a Maserati GHI, a Porsche Cayenne, over $66,000 in jewelry and over $12,000 from Sorrells’ bank accounts.
Voters approved the dissolution of Dallas County Schools, or DSC, last year after accusations of corruption and financial mismanagement first surfaced. The agency was tasked with providing school bus services to independent school districts in the county.
Its largest customer, the Dallas Independent School District, has since purchased the agency’s administrative building and several hundred of its buses to transport its own students.
Prosecutors claim an unidentified head of a stop-arm camera system vendor created an account of a nonexistent company to hide payments he made towards Sorrells’ credit cards.
“To disguise the bribe and kickback payments made to Sorrells, Person A funneled a significant portion of the illicit payments through various pass-through companies created and operated by his business associate, Slater Washburn Swartwood Sr., as well as through a law firm,” the 10-page charging document states. “To further disguise the bribe and kickback payments, Sorrells received a portion of the payments through shell companies which he created in his and/or a family member’s name(s) at Person A’s behest.”
Prosecutors claim fake consulting agreements, loans and a real estate business were used to tie payments from Person A to Sorrells. They say the scheme left DCS “in severe debt and teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.”
Sorrells’ attorney, Cynthia Barbare of Dallas, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment Monday afternoon.
Dallas-area drivers have long been critical of the stop-arm camera systems on school buses. Five drivers sued DCS in Dallas County District Court in October 2016, claiming they were illegally ticketed hundreds of dollars for alleged violations.
They argued the photographic enforcement and administrative adjudication of school bus stop-arm violations were never authorized by the Texas Legislature. They claimed bills that would have allowed the tickets failed in four successive legislative sessions.