O.K., this morning I think we are getting a more clear look at the government's case in the Dallas City Hall bribery case, in which former city council member Don Hill is accused of using racial affirmative action and "fair share" requirements to squeeze bribe money out of real estate developers.
The government is painting a picture of Hill as a sort of clever godfather, always saying the right thing, legally, to developers, but then sending his henchman, plan commission member D'Angelo Lee, to say the wrong thing.
Clearly, Lee, who was Hill's appointee to the plan commission, was worried that affordable housing developer Bill Fisher might be a spy for the FBI. Fisher has testified today that Lee hugged and patted him down at a Starbucks meeting. The government also played a surveillance tape of Lee asking Fisher what he had "in that big bag," a brief case.
In fact what Fisher had was an FBI video camera. But when Fisher dared Lee to search the bag, Lee demurred, apparently mollified.
Big mistake. Fisher had gone to work for the FBI months before.
This morning the prosecutor has led Fisher through a series of questions, bolstered by surveillance tapes, to show that Hill always tells Fisher he wants only the proper and fair application of laws requiring him to use minority contractors. Then Lee tells him that he has to use certain named contractors.
Here is the nub of the case against Hill, as expressed in an exchange this morning in federal court between federal prosecutor Marcus Busch and Fisher, who is on the witness stand for the second day:
"At any point in your dealings with Don Hill, did he ever directly ask you for money?" Busch asks.
"Did you ever directly pay a bribe to Don Hill?"
"In the votes that were had at City Hall, either opposing your projects or ultimately in favor of the Homes at Pecan Grove and ultimately in May of 2005 in favor of Dallas West Village, who is the council member who is making those motions?"
"Who is the one individual who controls what happens at City Hall in relation to your projects?"
"Does any of this pressure happen if Don Hill is not controlling what happens at City Hall?"
"No. All roads ... "
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The defense raises an objection. Overruled.
Fisher says, "All roads lead through Don Hill. None of this could have happened without Don Hill controlling the votes on all of these matters, the zoning votes, the tax credit matters, all of these."
This is interesting stuff. So far, I have been complaining here on the blog that the government never seems to close the loop, never produces a smoking gun showing Hill asking a bribe. But that probably isn't how this argument works.
Instead, this is a big picture argument. The government wants the jury to look for patterns rather than threads.