By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Fisher, who at this point may be wearing a wire, courtesy of the feds, meets with Reagan and his No. 2, Allen McGill. There Reagan and McGill tell Fisher that he needs to hire them as consultants in exchange for Hill's support of his project. Then Lee enters the negotiations and suggests Fisher donate money to Hill's birthday party.
In November 2004, Reagan, who just three months earlier announced his opposition to multifamily apartments, reversed his position and declared his support for Fisher's project. A few days later, Reagan accepted a $10,000 check from the unnamed developer, believed to be Fisher. Then he told the developer he needed to hire "certain minority contractors" if he wanted his project approved, while hitting him up for a monthly car allowance.
In February 2005, Reagan had his infamous meeting with Hill behind a church, where he handed him "at least $10,000 in cash." The scheme becomes even more inscrutable after that, but to sum it up, more people extort the developer, and they, in turn, figure out ways to give Hill his cut. Meanwhile, the council member, smack in the middle of his successful effort to defeat the strong-mayor proposal, continues to move the developer's project along, as his cronies keep him in the loop every step of the way.
Hill declined to be interviewed for our story, but his attorney Ray Jackson asserts his client's innocence without ever hedging his bets.
"I can say unequivocally that Mr. Hill did not take any money in exchange for votes or for using his powers as a councilman," he says. "If things are not in context, it could seem like Hill did something that was inappropriate, but he stands adamantly for his innocence."
Although Jackson declined for legal reasons to discuss the particulars of the feds' case, he did answer a question about the most infamous passage in the indictment.
"The scene that you're talking about at the church is drastically different than the reality of it," he says. "I can't specifically talk about how it was different, but I can tell you that it wasn't as it was portrayed. Mr. Hill never took any money other than for his campaign."
Sheila Hill says that she too is innocent and will not accept a plea. She says that she had a perfectly legal business relationship with Brian Potashnik and Southwest Housing and that it was far from the arrangement portrayed by the indictment.
"It was a legitimate and appropriate contract," she says, while declining to go into any details. "Southwest Housing has a team of the finest attorneys anyone can have and through thorough investigation and research and just exploring all aspects of the contract found that it was an appropriate and legitimate contract."
She also speaks well of Southwest Housing, highlighting the company's good reputation for building affordable apartments that look just as nice as any middle-class dwelling.
"You'll find they maintain the properties well," she says. "It's improved the quality of life in those communities...[Potashnik] has a dynamic product, and he has something to be proud of and is proud of."
To some, Hill's association with Reagan, as outlined in the feds' case, is even more troubling than the allegations themselves. If Hill was seen as a thoughtful, cautious figure, Reagan is a firebrand, a volatile, divisive personality, whom most people never would have thought could have snagged the confidence of an experienced politician like Hill. Rufus Shaw, who has had a few scrapes with Reagan over the years, says that he never knew Hill had anything to do with his longtime adversary.
"I've spent a lot of time with Don. My wife has spent a lot of time with Don. I never knew they even had a passing acquaintance with each other," Shaw says about Hill's relationship with Reagan. "I certainly would think this is something he would have shared with me."
Reagan began to fashion a career as an activist after he left a carpentry job at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in 1991. The South Oak Cliff graduate had filed four separate racial discrimination complaints against his employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of himself and other black employees, all of which were determined to be without foundation. Still, Reagan and his new organization, the Black State Employees Association, targeted school President Kern Wildenthal while using whistles and bullhorns at campus-wide demonstrations.
Reagan soon signed a settlement agreement promising not to engage in any more protests at the medical school. But, according to a subsequent lawsuit, Reagan resumed his demonstrations anyway, this time picketing Wildenthal's home. Reagan and the Black State Employees Association held several more protests at the president's residence. They rang the doorbell, blew whistles and paraded with large signs. The group also threatened to picket the nursing home where Wildenthal's mother lived. Finally, Reagan also had a threatening message for the president.
"UT Southwestern initiated this War, and in a War we take no prisoners," Reagan wrote in a note for the university president. "No more talking and rhetoric. This is simply a matter of survival to the family who could endure to the end."