DALLAS (CN) — The federal judge in the bribery trial of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price warned prosecutors Monday that she will probably take the rare step of dismissing most of the charges even if the jury convicts him.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn declined to dismiss any of the 11 charges against Price on Monday, but expressed concern that the prosecution failed to prove its case in six mail fraud charges.
Lynn said it is “virtually impossible” for the jury to convict him of mail fraud, as the prosecution did a poor job arguing use of the U.S. Postal Service in the alleged crimes. She said she would not submit the mail fraud counts if they were the only charges filed.
“The chances are 99 percent that if the jury returns a guilty verdict on counts two through seven, this court is going to enter a judgment, notwithstanding the verdict, virtually immediately,” Lynn said.
Price was charged in July 2014 with conspiracy to commit bribery concerning a local government receiving federal benefits, conspiracy to defraud the IRS, six counts of deprivation of honest services by mail fraud, and three counts of subscribing to a false and fraudulent income tax return.
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 her clients’ bids for county contracts, and more than $200,000 in cash from a clothing store operated by Price’s assistant and co-defendant Dapheny Fain and an art gallery operated by his friend Karen Manning.
Fain is being tried alongside Price; Nealy will be tried separately.
Prosecutors say Price hid the bribes and failed to report them on state-mandated financial disclosure forms or in his federal tax returns.
Judge Lynn also expressed doubts about the conspiracy charges. She said prosecutors failed to establish a conspiracy took place, and failed to present evidence of a verbal or written agreement between Price and Nealy. She cited testimony that Price did not always vote in support of bids from Nealy’s clients.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leigha Simonton said that alone does not disprove the existence of a conspiracy, but Lynn expressed concern that it would allow prosecutors to have a “long look backward” into Price’s entire political career, “without getting close to quid pro quo language.”
The prosecution has been dogged by at least three admitted failures to turn over evidence to the defense, failures that Lynn slammed as “terribly inappropriate and very disappointing.”
The mistakes have emboldened the defense, which declined to call Price to the stand and rested their case after calling only two witnesses last week.
Closing arguments were to begin Tuesday.