Should Paul Fielding go to jail?

He's violated the public trust and betrayed his own ethical standards. But is Dallas' perpetually annoying councilman guilty of fraud, perjury, and extortion?

The most damning part of Fielding's indictment, by far, is the EDS allegation. It states that Fielding used his official position as a councilman to coerce Electronic Data Systems into awarding a $1 million janitorial contract to a client of Mason Rich's named Handy Andy. Fielding had the leverage to do this, according to the indictment, because EDS was trying to get the city council to approve a controversial zoning change at the corner of Forest Lane and Hillcrest Road.

None of the charges in the indictment shocks people like this one--especially the people who were directly involved in the protracted negotiations that took place over several years between EDS and adjacent homeowners. EDS wanted to sell the 177 acres that its old headquarters building currently sits on to a developer for mixed use, but since the zoning was for single-family residences only, EDS had to get permission. It had been denied that permission before because of homeowner opposition.

On this latest EDS request, EDS had approached the homeowners early on with an olive branch--let's do this together, EDS said. When the homeowners and EDS came together to City Hall--presenting a united front--and asked the city council for permission to approve the zoning plan because all sides were happy with it, it was not only approved unanimously, it was hailed as the most successfully executed zoning case in the history of Dallas.

Carol Scott, Fielding's appointee on the city plan commission, recalls how confounded she was on learning of the EDS allegation. "When the FBI came to see me at my office with their little badges and little hoo-fra-fra and told me what they wanted to talk about, I looked at them and said, 'This is ridiculous. This is a joke. There's no need for bribery in this zoning case.'"

Fielding puts it another way: "The day I found out the FBI was investigating EDS was the happiest day of my life. How the hell could I extort anything out of EDS? That's insane. They're a $10 billion corporation. Plus, I couldn't have stopped that zoning case if I'd wanted to. It was a done deal--everyone supported it."

What the feds allege is that in August 1992 Fielding asked EDS to hire Handy Andy janitorial service, owned by Ron Jones. Then Fielding called EDS shortly thereafter to complain that Handy Andy was not getting a fair shake in the bidding process. Then, after Handy Andy got the bid, Fielding supposedly called EDS to ask for a price increase on the contract--it was too low for Handy Andy to make any money. Later, when EDS called Fielding to complain about Handy Andy's work, Fielding urged EDS to keep Handy Andy on contract anyway.

The feds also claim that once Handy Andy got the EDS contract, Fielding pressured Handy Andy to buy cleaning products from another company that Mason Rich factored called Greenchem. The owners of Greenchem were Roger Hoffman and Paul Fielding.

Fielding's version of events is that the first he heard that EDS was considering giving Handy Andy a janitorial contract was in fall 1992--he was told about it, he said, because EDS wanted an assurance from Fielding, in his role as factor, that Handy Andy had the financing to execute the contract.

"Ron Jones told me they had bid on the job, and would I mind talking to Robbie Robinson because he felt they were concerned about their financials," Fielding says, referring to the man who headed the real estate division for EDS. "And I don't remember whether I called Robbie or Robbie called me."

Fielding confirms there were subsequent conversations between him and Robinson regarding Handy Andy. "I called Robbie Robinson several times after the contract was awarded, because Handy Andy was having problems," Fielding says. These minor problems included storage of cleaning supplies and getting the lights turned on for the janitors.

And what about the allegation that Fielding asked EDS to raise the contract price after it was awarded? "When Robbie and I talked about whether or not the financing was in place, Robbie expressed a concern to me that the bid was too low," Fielding says. "I said I couldn't express an opinion on it--what do I know about pricing janitorial service?"

On the issue of forcing chemicals on Handy Andy, Fielding says it was a natural suggestion--not a squeeze. "One of the things we tried to do with minority companies was to get them to cross-pollinate and be there for each other in order to increase everybody else's business. Roger [Hoffman] was in the chemical business; Ron Jones was in the janitorial business--it seemed like a no-brainer."

It will not be clear until Fielding's trial what actually transpired--and it may not be clear even then, seeing as how there apparently are no wiretaps of conversations between Fielding and Robinson. It will be Fielding's version of events versus Robinson's. And then it will be Fielding's version of events versus those of Roger Hoffman and Ron Jones--both of whom declined, through their attorneys, to be interviewed for this story.

But no matter what version is correct, it helps to have a victim to convince a jury there's been a crime.

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