"I'm not bitter about that at all," Fisher claims today. "If I blame anybody, I blame Judge Buchmeyer. He should have given us bond pending appeal. He knew that there were potential issues that would have overturned the case."

Just a month after his second trial, he took a job with Southwest Housing. After learning Potashnik's technique as his right-hand man while SWH established itself as one of the top affordable-housing developers in Texas, Fisher left the company in February 2003, just a few weeks after the Fisher and Potashnik families vacationed together in Florida during Christmas.

"They were upset," Fisher says about Brian and wife Cheryl Potashnik's reaction to his departure. "They didn't want me to leave."

Before agreeing to become an FBI informant, Bill Fisher says he considered the words
of 18th century statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary
for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
Mark Graham
Before agreeing to become an FBI informant, Bill Fisher says he considered the words of 18th century statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
Two stories by former KTVT-Channel 11 reporter Sarah Dodd in September 2003 alerted the feds to the corruption at Dallas City Hall.
Mark Graham
Two stories by former KTVT-Channel 11 reporter Sarah Dodd in September 2003 alerted the feds to the corruption at Dallas City Hall.

Brian Potashnik sent his father, Jack—who pleaded guilty in 2008 to tax evasion for not reporting about $525,000 in consulting fees he received from SWH—into Fisher's office to find out what it would take for him to stay, but Fisher ultimately proposed a deal that he knew Brian would reject. When he left, Fisher says, there were "hugs and tears."

"Brian and I were friends," Fisher says. "He had nothing to fear from me. I wasn't going to do anything to hurt his family."

Nevertheless, that didn't stop Fisher from playing the same game as Potashnik to push his projects, even if that meant going into business with a sitting city council member in an arrangement that sent up the first whiff of smoke from the corrupt wheeling and dealing smoldering out of sight at City Hall.

How to Win Friends

To get an idea of just how hard it can be sometimes to tell the difference between an illegal act and a merely shady one at City Hall, consider the case of the late James Fantroy, a South Dallas council member who coaxed first Fisher and later Potashnik into using his security company, J.L. Security and Investigations, at some of their projects.

Since Fantroy was profiting from his contracts with the pair, council rules required him to "recuse" himself from any votes or discussions about business either man had before the council. Fantroy couldn't be selling influence if he wasn't speaking up or voting on either man's behalf. Likewise, neither Fisher nor Potashnik could be trying to buy Fantroy, since the councilman was, presumably, sitting mum.

Someone might buy that story, but not Laura Miller, the outspoken champion of City Hall ethics reform. When the mayor heard from Hill about Fisher's deal with Fantroy (Potashnik hadn't contracted with Fantroy yet), she smelled a quid pro quo and let her council colleagues know it at an August 2003 meeting. The council was scheduled to vote on authorizing $15 million in tax-exempt bonds for a Provident project in Fantroy's district. In a closed-door session, then-City Attorney Madeleine Johnson assured council members that Fantroy had already sought legal advice and was told the Fisher security contracts were above board as long as Fantroy left the room and didn't vote on any items that would trigger money finding its way into his pocket.

Fisher says it wasn't until Hill's June 2009 trial that he learned Fantroy was attempting to influence votes on his projects by directing other council members to do his bidding. "The Fantroy contracts were corrupt, and Mr. Fantroy made sure they were corrupt because he did not do what he should have done," he says.

Miller wasn't finished. The ex-Observer columnist persuaded the council to delay the vote and then tipped former KTVT-Channel 11 reporter Sarah Dodd to the story. Dodd, who would receive an Edward R. Murrow Award in 2006 for her series about the FBI's City Hall investigation, recalls Fantroy insisted on defending himself for her September 8, 2003, report even though he was lying in a hospital bed with a tube in his nose and receiving dialysis for advanced kidney disease.

"I came away from that and remember saying to my photographer, 'Council member Fantroy really does not see what's wrong with this scenario,'" Dodd says. "And I think in his heart he did not believe he was doing anything wrong."

Dodd says she was shocked that Fantroy's actions were blessed by Johnson and surprised her story and September 10 follow-up didn't receive much attention from other reporters. "At the time I did those stories, I knew I had something significant," she says today.

Reporters might not have followed up, but the FBI was impressed and soon began to investigate. By fall of the following year, they had help from Fisher. He had already started recording his telephone conversations with some of his City Hall contacts—chiefly Lee. Fisher would eventually testify at three trials, including those for Hill, his wife, Lee and four others.

Still the question remains: How does Fisher justify that contract with Fantroy?

He blames his political consultants.

Fisher says Kathy Nealy, a prominent South Dallas consultant who appeared with him at the August 2003 council meeting, told him weeks earlier that he was using "the wrong security company" and suggested Fantroy's company without disclosing who owned it. (Nealy testified in August 2009 that she didn't instruct Fisher to sign the contracts with Fantroy.) Fisher says he assumed she touted the company because it was minority-owned, and claims his then-partner Leon Backes authorized the contracts. Following Dodd's reports, Backes called for a meeting to discuss ending Fantroy's contracts. That meeting, attended by Nealy, high-powered political consultant Carol Reed and a team of lawyers, persuaded Fisher to stay with Fantroy.

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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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