Developer Brian Potashnik, Fisher's one-time boss and his rival developer in a cutthroat competition for federal tax credits, sits atop the list of newly minted felons, and it was the competition between the two men that would eventually bring the whole stinking edifice of bribery and extortion crashing down in federal court.

"Without these developers wanting to gain advantage and/or secure projects in the tax development arena, none of this would have ever happened," says Victor Vital, the former attorney for Farrington Hill. The fact that Fisher walked away from the wreckage and is still in the development business strikes Vital as unjust.

"Even though he was an informing, cooperating witness, Bill Fisher, according to the evidence, was engaging in the same type of alleged criminal conduct as Potashnik," Vital says. "As a matter of fact, the evidence demonstrated that Bill Fisher only became an informing witness because he was bested in his game of bribery by Brian Potashnik."

Don Hill's former attorney,
Ray Jackson, says if Brian
Potashnik deserves prison time, then so does Bill Fisher.
Mark Graham
Don Hill's former attorney, Ray Jackson, says if Brian Potashnik deserves prison time, then so does Bill Fisher.
Fisher's longtime friend and attorney, John Carney, says, "There's no comparison at all."
Mark Graham
Fisher's longtime friend and attorney, John Carney, says, "There's no comparison at all."

Fisher insists that his motives were pure when he decided to meet with the feds in November 2004. Fisher may have flirted with crossing some ethical and legal lines in his drive to secure political support for his housing projects, but Potashnik marched right across them. Fisher believes Potashnik's sole motive was to destroy his competitor's business.

Funny thing about those lines, though—at City Hall, they sometimes get a little thin.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

In an ideal world, where public officials are models of honesty and human beings aren't easily tempted by dollars, the Texas Legislature's and state Department of Housing and Community Affairs' plan to cut back on a glut of one type of government-subsidized housing might have worked just fine.

In this world, particularly those parts of it called Dallas and occupied by Hill, Lee, Potashnik and their colleagues, the state's scheme turned out to be an inadvertent recipe for minting felons—thanks partly to an unwritten city council rule that gives city council members final say in votes over zoning issues and housing projects in their districts.

"One person has absolute power over that development, and that absolute power leads to the potential for corruption," Fisher says.

During 2003 and 2004, the state changed the rules for a program that had created a rain of affordable-housing projects in Dallas, Houston and other large metro areas. Under the program, developers were awarded millions in federal tax credits—essentially discounts on future tax bills—to build homes for low-income tenants. Developers could sell the credits to investors or banks, collect 83 cents on the dollar up front at the time and use that money to help pay for construction. The new rules required city council approval of all projects, awarded points based on letters of support from politicians and community groups and prohibited building more than one housing project within one mile of another in the same calendar year. In practice, the rules meant that if two developers wound up competing on the same turf, the guy with a good friend at City Hall would have a huge advantage.

The change in the program's rules came shortly after Fisher's departure in 2003 from his job as vice president of Southwest Housing Development Company Inc., the affordable-housing development business then owned by Potashnik. (Seattle-based Pinnacle acquired SWH in summer 2008.) Fisher left for more money and a chance to be partners with investor Saleem Jafar, who together agreed with Leon Backes and his Dallas-based Provident Realty Advisors Inc. to form Provident Odyssey Partners LP, putting Fisher in direct competition with his former boss and one-time close friend.

The rivalry was bound to be tough. Potashnik had a sterling reputation as a developer, had won praise from then-Mayor Laura Miller and was a large political contributor to her and other local politicians.

Fisher's history was problematic.

A stout, balding 55-year-old, Fisher grew up in the suburbs just south of Kansas City and attended Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business, where he earned degrees in finance and accounting. Fisher forged a tight friendship at SMU with John Carney—his across-the-hall neighbor freshman year and Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house roommate who would later become one of his attorneys. After graduation, Fisher worked in the international financial division of Enserch Corp. (formerly Lone Star Gas Co.), before Carney recommended him for a job at Quantum Equities Inc., where Carney worked.

In 1984, Fisher and Carney left Quantum and created a Dallas-based real estate investment company called Equisource Realty Corp., but real estate soured during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s. So four years later they established U.S. Savings Associates Ltd. and purchased Bayside Federal Savings and Loan Association in Port Charlotte, Florida. A successful effort to recapitalize the previously worthless bank came to a screeching halt when Congress in 1989 approved a law that effectively reduced Bayside's capital from close to $4 million to around $800,000.

Investors demanded their money back, and when USSA filed for bankruptcy, Carney and Fisher were unable to repay $895,000. Federal prosecutors indicted the pair in March 1994 on charges of making false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud and bank fraud. They were found guilty of all charges a year later and sentenced to seven years and three months each by U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eventually reversed the convictions because the prosecution withheld key evidence—an "egregious abuse of government," Carney says—and both men were released in February 1997 after serving 13 months in prison. The government retried the case, and both were acquitted by a second jury in October 1997.

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6 comments
Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

Good story, both developers are victims ,of Elected Officials greed.I hate Brian crossed the line,I still think he should not have been sent to prison.There are some guilty of much worse deed still in office and doing corrupt deeds daily.

Wharter_56
Wharter_56

Why isn't there an ongoing investigation of the DISD Supt. of Schools, who just happened to misplace $30MM + in budgetary funds?We've yet to hear a peep from the Dallas Morning News or any of the Dallas TV news commentators!

BC
BC

Is the City of Dallas lawyer Madeline Johnson still there? Sounds she was either crooked or incompetent for approving Fantroy's shakedown schemes.

David
David

Coming from someone who was in the conference room when the FBI announced themselves at the Southwest Housing offices, I think Bill and Brian did what was in their best interests at the time. Brian was convinced that the only way to get the projects done was to hand over money, and Bill thought that the only way to get out of his situation was to report. I don't fault either one of these guys for what they did. I know them both, and they are both great guys who, in the end, just want to build apartments for the needy and make some money doing it. What is wrong with that? The real criminals got the longest sentences.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Nope, she resigned in April 2005, two months before the FBI raids.

Guest
Guest

I know them both too. Brian great guy? Yes. Bill great guy? You gotta be kidding. Every time I'm around him I feel like I need a shower afterward he throws off so much dirt.

 
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