The federal bribery and tax evasion case against John Wiley Price got a human face Wednesday. Christian Campbell, one of the Dallas County commissioner's co-defendants, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning a local government receiving federal benefits. Put simply: Campbell admits he funneled money to Price's political consultant Kathy Nealy. Federal prosecutors allege Nealy then gave some of those proceeds to Price.
The deal caps Campbell's potential prison time at three years — he'd been facing as many as five — and requires him to fully cooperate in the prosecution of his former co-defendants, Price, Nealy and Price's assistant Dapheny Fain.
"Standing alone, [Campbell's flipping] is extremely damaging to Price and Nealy," Jeff Ansley, a former federal prosecutor says. "Any time, whether it's a public corruption case or otherwise, a co-defendant admits guilt it's damaging in front of a jury because they, improperly or not, tend to impute that person's admitted guilt to co-defendants."
Ansley, who assisted in prosecuting former Dallas City Council member Don Hill on corruption charges, says that adding a flesh-and-blood witness to the mountains of paper evidence the feds intend to use to convict Price is a significant blow to the defense. It also increases the chance that Nealy could take a deal and turn on her former boss.
"Likely, she's the next person [prosecutors] will approach," he said. "Looking at the daisy chain it makes sense to me that they would approach Campbell first. Next in the chain, whether it's public corruption or a drug conspiracy, you start at the bottom and you work your way up, I think Nealy is the next person."
The more deals get given out, the worse each succeeding agreement is likely to be, Ansley says. Each co-defendant who cuts a deal puts Price, the guy at the top of this particular food chain, in a tougher spot.
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Even on his own, Ansley says, Campbell will be a good witness because of his professional background and lack of previous felony convictions.
"Cooperating witnesses come in all sizes and flavors. Some are terrible, some are thoroughly tainted by past misconduct, like drug defendants where you've got multiple convictions already, to use an extreme example," he says. "That guy's testimony isn't worth considering because he's just going to get crucified on cross [examination]."
According to an August 2014 profile in The Dallas Morning News, Campbell is a 15-year veteran of the Air Force Reserve who moved from his native Oklahoma to Dallas shortly before starting an account manager job at oil-services company Schlumberger. While employed at Sclumberger, identified as "Company S" in the indictment against Campbell, the feds say he partnered with Nealy to steer contracts to the company.
Price's trial is scheduled to begin in January 2016.