FBI probes bribery allegations in Ferris

The FBI is investigating allegations of public corruption in Ferris involving Waste Management and its consultant, former Ferris mayor Billy Don Dunn.

In a nine-page affidavit filed in federal court to establish probable cause to obtain a search warrant for Dunn's home, Dallas FBI agent James Kendall states that he's received information "...that WMI [Waste Management] officials and agents have paid, or offered to pay, bribes to city officials and those seeking public office in Ferris and Lancaster, Texas, in return for support of their landfill expansion application."

The affidavit, filed August 26 in Dallas, includes the allegation that Dunn offered a bribe to the mayor of Lancaster to seek her support for Waste Management's application to expand Ferris' Skyline landfill from 73 to 667 acres. The affidavit alleges that on April 23, 1993, Dunn, who is paid by Waste Management as a "community liaison" consultant, approached Lancaster Mayor Margie Waldrop and told her that she "should not oppose the landfill expansion."

Lancaster has lobbied against the proposed expansion because it expects to become the site of a regional cargo airport planned for southeast Dallas County. Lancaster officials say that birds attracted to an expanded Skyline Landfill would pose a danger to air traffic.

According to the affidavit, "Dunn suggested to Mayor Waldrop that she should sit down and talk with WMI people because WMI had more money than God, that they were handing it out, and that she (Mayor Waldrop) could get more money than she ever dreamed of if Lancaster quit opposing the landfill."

The affidavit does not state where the conversation took place. Dunn has refused any comment to the Observer.

Mayor Waldrop confirms that she was contacted by the FBI and that she has known Dunn for years. But she would not comment on the charges in the affidavit. Lancaster city attorney Bob Hager, however, said that he has spoken with Waldrop and that the affidavit's description of her encounter with Dunn is accurate.

The affidavit also provides a partial transcript of a recorded conversation between current Ferris city council member Victor Burnett and Charles Wayne Fulton, who was serving on the council on November 16, 1993, the date Burnett says he secretly recorded their conversation.

Burnett told the Observer that the conversation took place outside the office of a Ferris newspaper. The affidavit states that "...Fulton acknowledged that he received $5,000 cash from Dunn...[and] that he knew the money did not actually come from Dunn, that it came from WMI."

Burnett says Fulton had angered Dunn by challenging the former mayor about a move to annex the Skyline landfill into the city of Ferris. In the transcript, Burnett refers to some campaign signs he claims Dunn purchased for Fulton and other pro-Waste Management city council candidates, and tells Fulton that Dunn--because he's angry--will ask Fulton to return the money he'd given him for the signs:

Burnett: That $5,000 he [Dunn] give you on them signs, he gonna want it back.

Fulton: Fuck 'em. (Laughter.) He got to prove he gave it to me first. (Laughter.) Let me tell you something. Every bit of my shit was in cash...Nobody was ever with me when I got my money.

Burnett: You know damn well he [Dunn] didn't give it to you. It come from Waste Management.

Fulton: Oh, I know where it came from.
Burnett: Where did he [Dunn] say it come from?
Fulton: This is my personal money. This is not Waste Management's money.
Burnett: ...they can't donate $5,000 to you.

Fulton told the Observer that he had no idea Burnett was taping their conversation, and that he simply "blurted out $5,000" because Dunn's campaign contributions to him "were none of his [Burnett's] business." Fulton says Dunn gave him only $400--Fulton's only campaign contribution--and that he wasn't required to report it because it was below the $500 limit. (In fact, state law requires all candidates for political office in Texas to report all campaign contributions of $50 or more, according to John Steiner, executive director of the state ethics commission.) Fulton also said he hasn't spoken with the FBI. "In my opinion, Burnett is just doing this to get more money from Waste Management," Fulton said. He added that Skyline landfill "is a benefit to Ferris--we need to put our trash somewhere."

Burnett, who used to work for Waste Management as a truck driver at Skyline, says he secretly recorded several conversations with current and former Ferris council members. He says the FBI retrieved the tapes from his safe deposit box at a Red Oak bank while Burnett was attending public hearings on Skyline's expansion application last summer.

Kendall, the FBI agent who wrote the sworn affidavit, would not comment on the Ferris investigation.

Kendall's affidavit also says Burnett told the FBI that he has seen notes Dunn keeps on a yellow pad listing what he's paid people, and that "he has an expense account and gets paid by Waste Management." The agent also writes that "Dunn and Calvin Booker, a community relations specialist employed by WMI, promised Burnett a consulting job with WMI if Burnett would help WMI win control of the Ferris city government by controlling the black votes."

Burnett told the Observer he was promised a Skyline supervisory position at a salary of $150,000. Waste Management denies the claim. The councilman says he turned his back on Waste Management because the company didn't keep its promises to him.

Kendall states that he and another FBI agent interviewed Dunn in August at his home on Ferris' east side. According to the affidavit, Dunn told them he'd been working as a Waste Management consultant for three years and had just had his contract renewed.

On August 29, after obtaining a warrant, FBI agents searched Dunn's home and seized a computer, a word processor, and several boxes of financial records, correspondence, and legal documents.

Waste Management, for its part, has stood behind Dunn, who sold Skyline landfill to the Illinois-based solid-waste giant in 1987.

Jim Lattimore, business development manager at Waste Management's regional office in Irving, told the Observer: "We don't know anything about why the FBI initiated its investigation. Everything Waste Management has done is aboveboard and subject to public scrutiny." He added that Waste Management has "not directed Mr. Dunn's political activities."

Lattimore said he doesn't monitor or reimburse expenses incurred by Dunn, who is a self-employed consultant for Waste Management.

Lynn Derman, a public-relations consultant for Waste Management, said opponents of the landfill expansion have "trumped up" charges against Dunn to get the FBI involved in a "last-gasp effort to derail the expansion application."

"Everything Waste Management has done with Bill Dunn has been totally aboveboard," she added, "and there's no wrongdoing there."

--Julie Lyons


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