By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Call it the riddle of the Fords.
For almost a year, Tarrant County Sheriff David Williams let five brand-new Crown Victoria patrol cars collect dust in a Fort Worth parking lot. His people just never bothered to pick them up. While the $100,000 worth of cars sat, the sheriff yuppie-lusted for a fleet of new Chevy Tahoes.
With the enthusiasm of a teenage car nut, he talked of converting the department's entire 150-vehicle inventory to Tahoes, sport utility vehicles that run $28,950 a pop when outfitted for police work. At the same time, Williams bent county officials' ears about reconditioning the department's old Chevy Caprice patrol cars, a model that was discontinued after 1995.
For the last three months, nobody could explain why the Fords sat idle--certainly not Williams, who these days doesn't return phone calls from some of his once-staunchest supporters, let alone from reporters wondering about some of the zany things that have gone on during his five and a half years in office.
A lot has been said of the sheriff's "failure to communicate," but little to solve the riddle of the Fords.
A columnist for FW Weekly took a shot at the mystery a few weeks ago, wondering whether Williams' roots in the Christian Coalition had him thinking the Ford symbol denoted the Antichrist. "That doodad--the insignia on the Ford--looks pretty darned satanic to me," the column joked.
As fine a theory as that was, it was refreshing to hear one of Williams' closest and most trusted former deputies give a definitive answer to the riddle of the much-ignored "Crown Vics."
"It's pretty simple and so stupid you're not gonna believe it," he said before evoking the name of Williams' chief campaign contributor and close adviser. "The reason is: Ed Max is queer for Chevrolets."
Yup. All the fuss about the Tarrant County patrol cars has to do with the sort of feeble-minded discourse you hear from lug nuts who have inhaled too much exhaust.
Yessirree. It's a Ford-Chevy pissing match.
"It's that elementary," says the former deputy, who asked not to be named.
And if Ed Max likes Chevies, so does Williams. Throughout his administration, department insiders say Williams has been attached at the hip to the gray-haired 69-year-old owner of a string of used auto parts businesses in Tarrant, Johnson, Parker, Dallas, and Wise counties.
Anybody who is anybody in Williams' regime drives a Chevy Caprice instead of one of the department's newer Fords, a recently released list of department vehicles shows. "The sheriff would have a few Caprices stashed around the department so he could drive a low-mileage one," says a second department insider, a high-ranking officer who resigned in Williams' second term, which began in January 1997. Max too drives a white Caprice as his personal car. His is rigged with flashing lights, just like the real police have.
It turns out issues automotive are only one planet in the bizarre universe of Sheriff David Williams, who from his early days as a first-time candidate in 1992 has exhibited some bewildering behavior.
There's his penchant for secrecy, his aversion to mingling with his troops or looking people in the eye, and his expensive and risky appetite for souped-up Camaros, machine-gun-toting SWAT teams, helicopters, and such.
Then there is his relationship with Max.
Williams' ties to the car-parts dealer have been mentioned from time to time in the daily newspapers, and Max has told reporters (including this one) that his only interest in the sheriff is in promoting good law enforcement and nostalgia for the days in the 1950s when his father was a Tarrant County deputy.
Maybe so. But there are at least small perks to be had for a man who contributed $55,000 to the sheriff's first campaign, then bought him a kennel full of drug-sniffing dogs for $20,000 more.
Williams' department gave Max's son Gary some extraordinary treatment when he was sentenced to 100 days in the Tarrant County jail for drunk driving last spring, the Dallas Observer has learned.
At first, according to court records and the judge in the case, the sheriff's department freed the younger Max and told him to report only on weekends. When the judge found out and complained that his sentence called for incarceration, Max was sent off to do his time in nicer circumstances. Instead of serving his sentence in Tarrant County, the younger Max was shipped to rural Wise County, where the sheriff is a business partner of Max's. In the less tense, less noisy, less crowded surroundings of the Wise County lockup, Gary Max was made a trusty and released after only 50 days, records show.
Also, while Max's campaign contributions to Williams are a matter of public record, the Observer has learned that one of Max's companies sold Williams and his wife a reconditioned 2-year-old Dodge Caravan SE minivan with 21,000 miles on it for $2,500. "Max boasted of giving the van to Williams," says one source who has been close to the two men.
When asked last week about the sale, at first Max denied knowing anything about it. A few questions later he said he did recall the transaction, but said the van was "probably worth far less than the book value because it had been through a salvage yard." Book value was roughly $16,000.