DALLAS (CN) – Attorneys for Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price tore into federal prosecutors and investigators Tuesday during closing arguments of his closely followed bribery trial, accusing them of unprofessionalism in putting on a weak case that lacks evidence of a crime.
Defense attorney Chris Knox, of Dallas, told jurors that the framing of Price and his assistant, co-defendant Dapheny Fain, is “nothing short of disgusting.” He accused FBI agents on the case of flat-out making up numbers, of using “smoke and mirrors” to mislead jurors.
Prosecutors spent eight weeks telling the jury that Price, 66, pocketed more than $950,000 in cash, cars and real estate from political consultant Kathy Nealy in exchange for Price supporting her clients’ bids for county contracts.
They also claim he took more than $200,000 in cash from a clothing store operated by Fain and an art gallery operated by his friend Karen Manning. He was indicted on 2014 on eleven counts of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax fraud.
Prosecutors have been dogged by at least four failures to turn over all evidence to the defense, resulting in U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn angrily chewing them out for endangering their case. The errors have emboldened the defense, who declined to call Price or Fain to testify in their defense and called only two witnesses.
Prosecutors faced another setback Monday when Lynn told them she will probably toss the six mail fraud charges against Price even if the jury decides to convict.
Knox said he was disgusted “to his core” about how federal investigators “dug and dug and dug” for evidence of a crime to frame Price, claiming they found no evidence. He cited how investigators placed a surveillance camera on a pole near Price’s south Dallas home and how an FBI agent testified Price drove Nealy’s Chevrolet Avalanche over 90 percent of the time. The surveillance video showed Price used the vehicle only a small fraction of that amount, Knox said.
“The things that come out of the mouths of these FBI agents…I think they are the only people in their work that think it is right,” Knox told jurors.
Knox reiterated the argument that Nealy and Price were simply long-time friends who did things to help one another, citing a check memo by Nealy asking for help in getting her daughter a car. He said Price did these things for many people, not just Nealy.
“The list of people he helped wraps around the block,” Knox said.
He expressed his concern representing such a long-serving public servant while going up against “three Library of Congress’ worth” of evidence to go through. He said that even with so much evidence, prosecutors failed to find a smoking gun.
“If that evidence existed, it would have been stapled to my forehead by these people,” Knox said.
Knox also attacked the prosecution’s star witness, consultant Christian Campbell. He said Campbell immediately admitted to being a liar during cross-examination.
Campbell was indicted with Price, Nealy and Fain and took a deal, pleading guilty to one count of bribery in 2015. He testified in March that Price would nudge companies who wanted his support on county contracts to hire Nealy, who then allegedly passed on bribes to Price.
Knox said over 150 federal employees have worked on the 12-year-long investigation against Price, while the defense has student aides who “were in the 3rd grade” when the investigation started. He blasted prosecutors for their failures to turn over evidence until the middle of trial, saying the investigation has gone on for so long and only now are extremely relevant documents being turned over to the defense.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Miller reminded jurors the prosecution is not required to show any written contract to engage in a conspiracy or pay bribes.
“Price told no one he was being paid by Nealy,” Miller said.
She said “not a penny” of the money that Price was paid or the cars paid by Nealy were on his state-mandated financial disclosure forms. She said the piles of cash found in a safe in Price’s home was his, not Fain’s. The defense had argued that Price was holding the money for her to keep her from spending it on shopping.
“A career politician, Price took double his salary for ten years,” Miller said. “He compromised the county’s purchasing process and he delayed economic development in south Dallas County.”