By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Nearly a dozen other candidates widely outspent Hill. They hired expensive consultants, paid for direct-mail advertising and aired slick TV spots. Hill, meanwhile, operated out of a shuttered car dealership in Oak Cliff. A team of volunteers ran his campaign. Still, on Election Day, Hill nearly eased into the runoff, finishing a strong third out of 11 candidates. When Hill conceded on the old car showroom floor, with wife Sheila by his side, many of his friends had tears in their eyes. Hill kept his composure and thanked his mother while his supporters slowly started to trickle out the door.
The two candidates who made the runoff, Tom Leppert and Ed Oakley, immediately scrambled for Hill's endorsement. It was as if they were out of town the day FBI agents searched Hill's offices and uncovered evidence he was driving a car he didn't own. When Hill finally gave his support to Leppert, the two of them held a news conference outside of City Hall. Leppert put his arm on Hill's shoulder and called his former rival his "friend."
The central federal indictment is tough to follow, with a parade of protagonists and shadowy supporting actors crossing paths at City Hill, in tiny offices and, of course, behind a church. It's hard to keep track of who's who, and just when you start to get a feel for where a particular cluster of allegations is headed, a new character is introduced and the story line takes a left turn.
But if there's a leading man in the feds' case, it's Hill, who stars in a series of bribery and extortion rackets. The first has the seasoned council member sidling up to Brian Potashnik, a Highland Park developer of affordable housing. According to the feds, Hill and a man named D'Angelo Lee, Hill's appointee to the City Plan Commission, lent their support to Potashnik's pending project in exchange for cash. Because Potashnik was applying for federal tax credits to fund his apartment complexes in Hill's council district, he had to have Hill's support if he was to ever break ground.
The feds allege that Potashnik and Hill first met in August 2004, which, incidentally, was just three months after the state bar sanctioned Hill. On October 22, 2004, Potashnik and his wife, Cheryl, agreed to a sham consulting contract with Farrington's makeshift company that had the Potashniks making 12 monthly payments of nearly $15,000 to Hill's future wife, according to the indictment. Five days later, Hill voted to approve three Potashnik projects at a city council meeting.
The feds allege that the Potashniks delivered monthly payments to Farrington. She, in turn, funneled money and gifts to Lee and Hill.
Lee allegedly hit on the developer to award additional construction contracts to buddies of Lee and Hill. In turn, the feds say those associates shuffled money back to Farrington, who funneled cash to Hill through another middleman. In one of the few easy-to-follow parts of the indictment, Hill encouraged Lee to keep after Potashnik.
"Very good. Very good. Very good. Good job, man," Hill told Lee in late April 2005, around the same time the council member was crusading against the strong-mayor proposal with far more eloquent words.
A few days later Potashnik told Lee, "Let Don know I appreciate him."
In his wedding to Farrington in the summer of 2006, Lee was Hill's best man.
The feds place Hill in a more convoluted bribery scheme connected to an effort to redevelop the Lancaster-Kiest Shopping Center in southeast Oak Cliff. There Hill used his position as a council member to rewrite the city's housing policy to help a fledgling development company run by Lee and others receive federal and city funds. In this alleged racket, Hill is the unquestioned ringleader. Here the same attorney who had trouble deposing witnesses for his clients meticulously ropes in unknowing executives, politicians and even an unnamed presidential cabinet member in his enterprise, seeking their assistance in "economic development opportunities," which presumably would benefit Lee's start-up.
All the while, the feds say, Hill gave Lee his marching orders. "Bring me in whenever you need me to, whatever I need to do, but you're going to have to keep your focus, man."
Then there was the mother of all extortion schemes, a brazen racket allegedly made possible only through Hill's efforts and which may have led to the investigation in the first place. There the feds say that Hill went to great lengths to extort bribes from an unnamed developer now known to be Bill Fisher, who at the time was Potashnik's chief rival in the competitive arena of affordable housing. This is how they say it went down:
In August 2004, in a zoning application hearing for one of Fisher's projects, Darren Reagan, a self-styled civil rights activist, called for a moratorium on all multifamily affordable housing projects, using the letterhead of his organization, the Black State Employees Association. Reagan's group, the feds noted, did not include any black state employees, but it had the imprimatur of a legitimate institution to anyone who didn't know any better. After Reagan threatened the viability of Fisher's project, none other than Hill steps in and tells Fisher to meet with Reagan. Lee meanwhile sends an emissary to Fisher to "seek financial assistance."