The plantation burns

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

But several witnesses said Richards turned on Crenshaw and decided he wanted to make sure she would not be re-elected in 1995. Kuhlman told the jury it was Richards' idea, confided to Kuhlman, that Richards should put Al Lipscomb back in office.

Kuhlman testified: "In March or April of 1995, Floyd came by my office, and he said, 'Karl, don't you think it would be good if I could get Mr. Lipscomb, being the senior statesman, so to speak, if he was re-elected, that on taxicab issues the council would probably listen to what he had to say? With just a little bit of encouragement from a minority, they would probably go along with it?'"

Indeed, whatever kind of foul-mouthed drunk Richards may be, his political insight is keen and ruthless. If it were not for the minority community and the leadership of Al Lipscomb in particular, the white-majority Dallas City Council of the mid-1990s would have had no trouble at all rolling over a bunch of independent cab drivers and people of color to help a good ol' boy set up a monopoly.

Michael Hogue
Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb's own words championing minority cab owners were used against him by the prosecution.
Henry Bargas
Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb's own words championing minority cab owners were used against him by the prosecution.

The next piece in the puzzle was supplied to jurors by Linda Pavlik, a government witness, former reporter for the Dallas Times Herald and Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and now a political consultant. With complete equanimity, Pavlik told the jury a depressing story -- even though she didn't seem to think it was depressing -- of how she stepped in to advise Richards on how to buy a Dallas City Council seat.

The 1995 cost of one contested seat on the Dallas City Council: $25,000 to $30,000. The race was contested because a very bitter Sandra Crenshaw refused to step aside for her former mentor and was running against him. Pavlik told Richards that meant they would need TV ads, phone banks, polls, voter transportation, etc.

Richards' reaction? He said he'd pay for the whole thing. A mere $25,000, after all, is the cost of one new cab. Richards was looking at laws that would add as many as 1,000 cabs to his fleet.

Pavlik told the jurors how she had explained to Richards that there was this little thing called the law: An individual, in a Dallas City Council race, can contribute only up to $1,000, and corporations can't contribute at all. It was Pavlik who came up with a plan for Richards to loan money to Lipscomb's son-in-law, who would then loan it to the Lipscomb campaign to get money into the campaign legally, sort of.

It worked. Lipscomb was re-elected in May 1995, and from that moment on he was so deep in Floyd Richards' pocket, he couldn't smell much else. Prosecutors Uhl and James T. Jacks in Amarillo presented evidence of how Lipscomb immediately began carrying water for Yellow Cab's anti-competitive campaign.

A city council tape-recording played for the jury has Lipscomb speaking against the creation of a new small cab company: "Apparently this is a brand-new company coming in," Lipscomb said, this time from his place at the dais. "What type of impact will it have on the existing companies that are already trying to make a living?"

But his main mission was to push for the higher insurance requirements and the age limits that would help to force small operators off the street. The government showed how his position on insurance requirements put Lipscomb directly at odds with city staff members who were championing small, minority- and women-owned businesses. The staff argued that raising the insurance requirements too high might even set a precedent that would make it impossible for small businesses and start-ups to do business with the city.

The argument cut no ice with Al Lipscomb. He said what Floyd Richards told him to say.

Some of the ugliest testimony of the trial was elicited from Pavlik, the political consultant, by assistant U.S. Attorney Uhl, concerning the attitude of Floyd Richards toward both Sandra Crenshaw and Al Lipscomb.

"Floyd would often call me late at night," Pavlik said, "and be very angry, most often when he was drunk, and he was an alcoholic, and he'd be very boisterous and loud."

Uhl asked her what Richards would say about Crenshaw and Lipscomb.

"He would say he had bought and paid for them," she said.

Did he use racial epithets? Uhl asked.

"Yes, he did."

"Did he use the n-word when he referred to them?"

"Yes, he did."

One of the stranger aspects of the trial in Amarillo is the mystery of how this kind of testimony falls on the ears of an all-white jury chosen from an 18-county area of the Texas Panhandle. Amarillo is 6 percent black. The jury questionnaires identifying the jurors have been suppressed by the court, but it's a safe bet that many of the areas these jurors come from are zero percent black.

An Amarillo lawyer, trying to explain how conservative these juries can be, said, "You know how bad it is when I tell you I try to get Baptists on my juries to keep the Church of Christers off."

But the genius of the government's case is that it offers a logic more fundamental than race. No matter which race or clan or affinity group a person belongs to, the principles of loyalty and betrayal are the same. They are universal.

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