By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
All during the election, I got calls from political insiders whispering on the phone, "Schutze, you are nothing but a swampland-buying Brooklyn Bridge sucker, because the only thing they care about over there at the DA's office is influencing the outcome of elections, and when this election cycle is over, the whole vote fraud thing will be dropped."
Election is over. Weeks go by. No indictments. No rumbles on the grapevine. I resist believing things that make me look stupid. But finally last week my wobbly hand reaches out shaking and quaking and picks up the phone to make the one call I don't want to make.
Terrence Gore. He's the guy Tom Dunning, the downtown business candidate for mayor, fired from his campaign in a high dudgeon when The Dallas Morning News broke a story saying Gore had been helping semi-blind ladies see better when it was time for them to fill in the dots on their absentee ballots.
I know Terrence. He's a nice guy. Means well. Feels sorry for blind people. Wants to be of assistance to candidates. What would they call that at the Morning News? Convergence. But he really was in the big middle, and if there is anything doing now on the vote fraud indictments, Terrence Gore will have the skinny for me.
I get on the line with him, and it's like, "Where have you been, Schutze?" He's mad. He's not just ready to dish: He's pent up.
Dunning had called Gore a "part-time part-time" employee and said he had no idea why Gore or anybody else was out there gathering up ballots from sight-impaired shut-ins on his behalf.
"He tried to do this spin job on me," Gore told me on the phone, "and I didn't appreciate it."
The question, as I understood it, was always about the food chain. If the money paid to Gore for ballot-gathering was Dunning money, how could Dunning and his campaign act as if Gore's activities were a surprise to them?
Gore said, "Dunning was going to try to make me a scapegoat or something. If he didn't have personal knowledge of what was going on, the people he entrusted running his campaign did. And to put it on one guy, when I didn't have the purse strings for nothing, it just ticked me off."
Especially since the Dunning staffer who had hired Gore--the supervisor over Dunning's African-American phone bank operation--was Gore's mom. I mean, come on. I'm with Terrence on this. I think his own mom knew who he was. I don't see her putting her hand on the Bible down there in the grand jury room swearing she has never heard of her own son. I think that would elicit judicial skepticism and could possibly even lead to involuntary confinement.
Terrence was mad. He wanted to shoot a big hole in this whole story about how he was just some kind of rogue employee out there acting on his own. So guess what he did. He went to the public integrity unit of the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, which was running a high-profile criminal grand jury probe of vote fraud at the time, and he offered to lay it all out.
"I went to the DA. I talked with [investigator] Ben Stool [of the public integrity unit]. He called me at home one night."
Gore says he offered to provide Stool with paperwork that would show the linkage up the food chain from the absentee vote operatives out on the street to state Representative Terri Hodge (D-Dallas) and from her to political consultant Kathy Nealy, who is the main African-American subcontractor on establishment political campaigns run by Dallas political über-guru Carol Reed.
I called Nealy four times over five days for comment, but she never called me back. Hodge did call and confirmed that she met with Gore during the Dunning campaign to discuss the absentee vote effort and that she was a Dunning supporter. But she insisted she had no official or paid connection with the campaign. Gore told me he could have stitched things up a lot tighter than that for the district attorney's investigation.
"I told him I was willing to give a complete statement on anything and everything I knew about what was going on with the Dunning campaign, including connecting the dots between Nealy and Hodge. And I never heard back from the man."
He says he was loaded for bear.
"I had everything, every person I had talked to, every person whose door I knocked on. I had complete records of everyone I had contact with during the runoff election, and I told the DA that that stuff was available for them: 'You should send someone over to get it.'
"I didn't hear from nobody."
Let's take a break here. I also talked to Assistant District Attorney Eric Mountin, head of the public integrity unit and Ben Stool's boss.
"He [Gore] contacted Ben and indicated he wanted to clear his name," Mountin said, "and he was very general and in fact beyond very general, totally nonspecific about what he wanted to talk about or the nature of what it was that he wanted to discuss. And beyond that, Ben has not had a chance to get with him."
It's a busy life.
"Really what it comes down to," Mountin said, "is that to a certain extent we have to prioritize our time, and that would be why Ben has not had a chance to actually meet with Mr. Gore, because from what was presented to us, it didn't appear to be anything critical."
OK, but I wouldn't be doing my job if I failed to point out that Mr. Mountin's boss, Bill Hill, is now running for re-election. And, food chain-wise, Mr. Hill is now swinging from the same tree that brought the Dunning campaign into full fruit. That is to say, Hill's campaign consultant is now the über-guru, Carol Reed, who ran the Dunning campaign. Had there been a serious effort to climb the Dunning campaign tree, using Terrence Gore's documentation, Reed would have been the Christmas angel at the top.
And let's take another break, because I also talked to Carol Reed and Tom Dunning. Reed called my food-chain thesis "absurd." (I always think, "Yes, but is it wrong?") She pointed out that the public integrity unit investigation of vote fraud had worked against her candidate, Dunning. It was his campaign that was hurt when it was revealed that some of his workers were receiving subpoenas, apparently for things they had done in earlier campaigns for other people.
"If anything," she said, "I thought the timing was pretty dreadful, to have something that had to do with a school board thing plopping in there right during the middle of a mayor's race."
So she's saying: If she is on high running all this from a storm cloud, why would she aim the thunderbolts at her own feet?
Dunning repeated what he had said during the campaign, that no candidate can know what every worker in his campaign is up to at every moment. He said he was confident that Reed and her subcontractor, Nealy, had been ethical in spending the money he had entrusted to them.
"I worked directly with Carol Reed, and I worked with Kathy Nealy, and we went to churches on Sundays, and so that's essentially [it]. Kathy Nealy has assured myself and Carol Reed that she has books and check stubs, and I'm confident that she does."
Hill declined to discuss these matters with me and referred me to Mountin.
But hang in here with me one moment and allow me to mention that I am also talking all the time to people who speak to me on a not-for-attribution basis, who are very close to the voting process in Dallas, who are telling me that the vote-brokering business is absolutely alive and well. And I'm talking about bags of ballots coming in at the last minute, delivered by commercial courier and clearly having been harvested by paid vote brokers, as recently as in the recent Democratic primary election.
We're talking about ballots that come in from nonexistent addresses. We're talking about suspicious signatures. I'm working on some of this and will have more detail soon, but for now, as an aside, I do have a public request: If anyone knows where I can find Adrienne Bottorf, would you please let me know at 214-757-8460. Ms. Bottorf, a very civic-minded person, I can tell, who has been willing to help many sight-impaired elderly citizens by signing as a witness to their absentee votes, is surprisingly scarce. I may need to talk to some of the other ballot witnesses who could be related to her, judging by the similarity of their handwriting.
Mountin told me he does have one trial date set, May 13, for Felicia Petrie, an aide to state Representative Hodge. Petrie is accused of improper assistance to the blind in a voting situation. I asked if there was anything else cooking. He said, "As far as indictments, no."
And here's a last thought. The guy they were all worried about in terms of vote fraud was the Latino mayoral candidate, Domingo Garcia. He didn't get elected. He also didn't do any ballot fraud that anybody has discovered.
And, man, all of a sudden the heat is definitely off. Now, all of a sudden, "We have to prioritize our time."
Terrence was telling me what he told Ben Stool: "I told him, 'Hey, talk to the boss and let me know. I got records. I got forms. I'll come down, and I'll give you everything.'
"And I never heard back from the man. But the election is over with now, so I guess it doesn't make sense to go after anybody now. It's not high-profile now."
No, that's not it, Terrence. The problem is, you weren't specific enough.