In case you missed it, the long-delayed bribery trial of long-serving black Democratic Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley price got underway February 27.
For those who forgot about Price, the essentials are that Price is accused of taking some $950,000 in bribes over a decade from businesses seeking county contracts and other favors. The FBI seized more than $450,000 from Price in 2011 as part of their investigation. (You can read the FBI’s search warrant here.) So the trial has been a long, long time in coming. Indeed, it was three years after the raid before Price was even arrested. (The trial was evidently delayed due to an FBI agent’s stroke.) And being under bribery indictment didn’t prevent Price from being reelected. Twice.
Recently the Price trial turned to the inland port controversy, something I’d learned about back when covering former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert’s unsuccessful Senate bid. Here’s Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer on recent revelations:
One major question in the trial is whether Commissioner Price, lifelong hero and champion of African-American southern Dallas, stabbed his own constituency in the back seven years ago by helping torpedo a huge economic development project called the Inland Port, a planned 5,000-acre complex of rail yards, truck terminals and gigantic high-tech warehouses purported to be worth 65,000 well-paid new jobs for the city’s southern racial reservation.
If he did help stymie the Inland Port, the criminal allegation is that he did so to collect bribes from a lobbyist working for a competing shipping facility in Fort Worth owned by Dallas’ powerful Perot family. If he was not acting corruptly, then Price was only being a good steward of the interests of his district by insisting on proper land-use planning. The trial will tell.
Foster was the county’s top elected official in 2007 when the Inland Port question arrived at a crisis. The project’s lead developer had amassed 5,000 acres of land and spent millions of dollars over seven years getting all of the zoning and other permits he needed for the vast project. He was just about to ink deals with major international companies to build vast high-tech warehouses in what was supposed to become a continental shipping hub.
Top executives for Hillwood, a Perot company, have already testified in the trial that in 2007 they saw the Dallas Inland Port as a grave competitive threat to Hillwood’s Alliance Global Logistics Hub in Fort Worth. They wanted to slow it down long enough to regain the advantage.
The Perots had a connection to Price through lobbyist Kathy Nealy, who had helped the Perots get a bond election passed in 2000 to support a new basketball arena in Dallas. The government’s allegation in the ongoing trial is that Nealy paid Price to use his official powers to sabotage the Inland Port, even though the Inland Port project might have been the single greatest promise of economic opportunity in the history of southern Dallas.
All of a sudden in 2007 a lot of things started to happen, seemingly out of the blue. Price began insisting that a long difficult process of federal permits and local planning needed to be cranked up again from scratch. He was supported in his efforts by a major regional planning agency, by then Mayor Tom Leppert and by the editorial page of The Dallas Morning News.
Price’s pitch to the Dallas black community he claims to represent has long been “Our Man Downtown.” By prioritizing his own shakedown operation over jobs for his constituents, it appears that Price was his own man downtown…
More tidbits from the trial:
Price’s accountant and tax preparer, Russell Baity, repeatedly admitted Tuesday that he did not know about several sources of Price’s income, including rental payments, art and real estate sales and a civil court judgement. Price should have told him about the extra cash, Baity told the jury.
“You need to report every dollar you receive on your tax returns,” he said.
Baity also cast doubt on the defense’s assertion that payments between Price and his executive assistant and co-defendant Dapheny Fain were loans and repayments of loans. Price hadn’t told him about any loans, Baity said, despite the fact that the accountant would’ve needed the information to properly handle Price’s taxes.
The Price trial is still ongoing, and soon Price’s defense will get their turn.