Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price could see some of the charges against him dismissed even if a federal jury finds him guilty. During a hearing Monday morning, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn repeatedly questioned the validity of some of the government's charges against Price. By late Monday afternoon, she indicated that she may be inclined to modify the jury's verdict on conspiracy to commit bribery and mail fraud charges.
The government's argument in favor of those charges goes like this: Political consultant Kathy Nealy purchased cars and let Price use them. In doing so, she helped the companies she represented bribe Price to help their interests. And because she mailed payments on those cars, Nealy and Price engaged in mail fraud.
Defense attorneys argued that the payments weren't part of any alleged bribery conspiracy, even if that conspiracy existed. On Monday afternoon, Lynn agreed, telling attorneys on both sides that she "99 percent sure" she would dismiss the mail fraud charges against Price, even if the jury found him guilty on those counts, according to KXAS' Ken Kalthoff.
"If these were the only counts I would not submit them," Lynn said.
Not facing the mail fraud charges greatly lessens Price's potential sentence. Each of the remaining counts against him — conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit tax fraud and filing a false tax return —carries a maximum sentence of between three and five years.
Federal mail fraud can be punished with up to a 20 year sentence. While Price will lose his seat on the Dallas County Commissioner's Court with any felony conviction, it appears that what could've been a de facto life sentence is off the table.
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Lynn also openly questioned whether prosecutors proved that a quid pro quo existed between Price and Nealy. Nealy, set to go on trial later this year for bribery, is accused of being the middle woman between Price and the companies she represented. In exchange for cash from Nealy, Price is accused of passing along confidential information and providing influence to and on behalf of Nealy clients. Prosecutors have no smoking gun, like video or audio recordings, proving that payments made by Nealy to Price were actually bribes.
"People get to make payments to public officials," Lynn said, according to reporters in the court room.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Bunch argued with Lynn that agreements don't always have to be spoken or written. A quid pro quo between Nealy and Price could be implied or inferred by jurors, Bunch told Lynn, who countered that Price often voted against Nealy's clients. "He doesn't always do what she wants," Lynn said.
Closing arguments in The United State of America v. John Wiley Price, et al. begin Tuesday morning.