The plantation burns

Al Lipscomb is on trial for bribery. The real charge is "traitor."

If Floyd Richards owned Al Lipscomb, he owned the race card.

Richards was already the owner of Yellow Cab companies in several cities. He had his headquarters in Fort Worth, where the backwater political climate allowed him to enjoy an impenetrable monopoly. In Fort Worth, all Floyd Richards had to do was keep the cowboys and the yes-men on the city council happy, and he didn't have to compete against a soul.

That's what he wanted in Dallas.

As part of his wacko theory of taxicabology, Ravkind tried to argue that Floyd Richards was pushing for changes in the city taxicab ordinances in Dallas to make Dallas a safer and healthier place for cab-riders, other motorists, pedestrians, and, presumably, pets and wildlife. In particular, Richards wanted the Dallas City Council to impose a hard-and-fast five-year limit on the period of time a new cab could remain in service, and he wanted the council to increase the standards for taxi insurance, requiring cab owners to buy more insurance from higher-rated insurance companies.

But a number of witnesses who had worked with Richards and presumably knew his thinking well said his entire agenda was to squeeze the little guys out of business by raising their costs and to force them to come work for him.

You can say that's just business, but that's just not the point in Lipscomb's case because of who and what Lipscomb was. No witness was more effective at deflating Ravkind's theory than Karl Kuhlman, whom Ravkind had reviled to the jury on the first day of trial as the worst kind of arrogant, rich white bigot.

"What the government forgot to tell you," Ravkind said to the jurors, "was that Yellow Cab in the 1980s was a racist cab company without a doubt. It was owned by Karl Kuhlman, who lived in the Park Cities, a Parkie. He was a racist. He didn't hire blacks. He wouldn't pick them up [in his cabs].

"As a result of Kuhlman being an unapologetic racist, Yellow Cab went bankrupt in the late 1980s," Ravkind said. He told the jurors that the first thing Floyd Richards wanted to do when he took over the company was help it overcome its racist reputation and also help make Dallas safer for motorists by persuading the city council to pass stiffer cab regulations. In these efforts, he enlisted the aid of then-former Councilman Albert Lipscomb.

"Al Lipscomb never did a single thing that wasn't in the best interests of the people of the city of Dallas," Ravkind said in his opening statement.

There were at least three problems with all of that. The first was the string of black witnesses who argued convincingly that Kuhlman was not a racist and that Yellow Cab under his ownership had lots of black drivers and served black as well as white neighborhoods. The second was that Kuhlman himself, when he took the stand at the end of the week, came across as a decent human being.

But the biggest problem was what several witnesses told the court concerning Floyd Richards' campaign to manipulate the Dallas City Council. They said Richards didn't give a damn about safety. He wanted the city council to help him put his competitors out of business through increased regulation.

Ravkind, who wanted the jury to get the idea that Lipscomb was out to make Dallas a safer city with age limits for cabs, kept walking into sucker punches by asking the government's witnesses open-ended questions:

"Are you telling me that these things [the age limits and tighter insurance regulations] wouldn't have been supported by most of the cab industry?" Ravkind asked former Yellow employee and government witness Walter Sterling. (Picture Ravkind with an apple on his head.)

"No, it would not have been supported by most of the cab industry," Sterling said, "because they would have to go out and buy new cabs."

Ravkind argued with him, which gave Sterling a chance to get down to some good numbers. The new regulations, he said, would have forced between 500 and 1,000 cabs into retirement, and all of those slots probably would have been gobbled up by Yellow, doubling its size and eliminating its competition.

The especially salient piece Kuhlman brought to the jury was his insight into Floyd Richards. Kuhlman explained how Richards came to the decision that pouring an alleged $100,000 in cash, goods, and benefits into the personal and campaign coffers of Al Lipscomb over three years would be a good investment decision.

Kuhlman told the jury that Yellow Cab of Dallas, which had belonged to his wife's family, was insolvent at the end of the 1980s because of a bad investment he had made in a computerized dispatch system -- not at all because the black community disapproved of Yellow Cab. Kuhlman sold to Richards, and Richards kept him on to run the day-to-day operations.

Kuhlman was one of several witnesses who said that Richards began giving money to Sandra Crenshaw, a Lipscomb protégé who occupied Lipscomb's council seat during the 1993-'94 hiatus when Lipscomb was off the council. In addition to describing cash payments to Crenshaw, Kuhlman said, "Floyd got real friendly with Miss Crenshaw."

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