Price is Wrong
The one thing they say about federal time: You do have to do it. The feds won't give you a get-out-of-jail-free card. But in 1998 when notorious Dallas real estate swindler Danny Faulkner talked his way out of the pen after serving only four years of a 20-year sentence, nobody was surprised.
You don't go from illiterate house painter to Rolls Royce-driving, helicopter-owning, charity-ball-hopping celebrity and then to the pen for 20 years without some kind of a mouth. Faulkner, central character in a massive 1980s land fraud, talked authorities into believing he was dying of cancer. Six months to live. Please. Have mercy.
Faulkner was so grateful and delighted to be released, when he got home he experienced a miraculous remission and lived another 13 years. He died last May of pneumonia.
When he got out of the pen in '98 and returned to Forney, a small town due east of the city, Faulkner still owned land around the county. But he had a problem. The feds had locked up all of his property with criminal forfeiture liens.
At the time he was sent to the pen, authorities estimated Faulkner had duped his victims out of $100 million or more. They wanted some of that back. What they did not want was Danny Faulkner parading around Dallas in another Rolls while his victims gnashed their teeth. So anything he sold, the money went to Uncle Sam. That was the theory.
One of the first people Faulkner got back in touch with when he came home was a man from Forney who also had done well for himself in the big city, his friend and protégé Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. Price, too, had a problem.
Commissioner Price, often described by the media as the most powerful black elected official in Dallas, had filed for personal bankruptcy two years earlier, a move that would eventually allow him to stiff creditors for a total of $372,022.53, according to court documents filed in the feds' ongoing money laundering and corruption investigation of Price.
It took Price five years to get out of bankruptcy court, during which time he was expected by the court to live the life of an austere penny-pinching penitent. That was the theory.
The court documents filed by the FBI and Justice Department in the Price corruption probe dig way back into those supposedly lean years and show him putting $30,000 Jaguars under his court assistant's name, money into a checking account he opened in his mom's name, and land under other people's names.
If any of those actions were a crime, the five-year statute of limitations should have run out long ago, but the statute of limitations in bankruptcy law is complicated. For some reason, the FBI seems to believe delving back into all of this now is worth the effort.
Last year when the FBI raided Price's home and offices, I told a story here that I had heard bits and pieces of for years, about some acreage on Grady Niblo Road in West Dallas way out by Mountain Creek Lake. I related how one day in 2003 Price bought that land from a guy named Wayne White.
Then the same day he bought the same land again from Dapheny Fain, Price's own administrative assistant. Only there was no public record of her ever having owned it. And anyway he just bought it the same day from the other guy. And anyway ... well, you get the picture.
But that was all I knew. I interviewed White, an antiques dealer from Forney who rented space from Danny Faulkner. He was what I would call a very unenthusiastic interviewee, but he did say a few things. According to the FBI documents on file now, I believe the story White told me last year was ... how to put it? ... incomplete.
White told me he and his ex-wife owned the land on Grady Niblo. Price sort of showed up all of a sudden wanting to buy it. Well, first the busy commissioner showed up in White's antiques store wanting to play dominoes. Well, he wanted to get in on the regular dominoes game that White played with his landlord and buddy, Faulkner.
And just to move this story along, I would ask you to mentally pencil in at this point about 10 paragraphs of blah-blah-blah. Some of the blah-blah is quite colorful having to do with Price wanting White to sell the land to a guy involved in jailhouse corruption stories so Price could buy it from the jailhouse corruption guy but White just being too straight and honest a Scout to do a thing like that. What? Yeah, well. Eventually, White very reluctantly sells Price the land.
Naturally I ask why, him being reluctant and this being America, he sold to Price. He says: "It will all come out what kind of person he is. He's just a con man. The only thing I want to say for him, you can print it, he's a Chicago politician in Texas."
Great answer. Doesn't make sense. Still a great answer for journalistic purposes.
Right now the feds want a judge to let them hold on to a bunch of money they have seized from Price, which they say is all ill-gotten gain. Price has answered all of those charges by saying they are false or he doesn't know what they're talking about.
In an FBI affidavit filed in that matter, I found details of what the FBI claims is the inside skinny on the Grady Niblo land, Wayne White, Faulkner, the dominoes and the blah-bah-blah. The FBI says White borrowed money in 1998 from a Forney bank to buy a 50 percent interest in land belonging to his friend Domino Danny. Price borrowed money from the same bank and bought the other 50 percent interest in the land.
They appear to have paid a total of $50,000 for the land in 1998, which sold again in 2003 when it was apparently worth $250,000 and again this year at a value of $750,000. Those prices, however, are only the paper values. There is repeated suggestion in the FBI affidavit that "other monies" passed under the table in some of these transactions.
But, wait. Back to 1998. So the land goes from Danny Faulkner to White and Price, right? Wrong. Did I not tell you about John Wayne? Yeah, he's in here too.
The land is placed in only White's name. Remember that the commissioner is still in bankruptcy court trying to shrug off 372 grand that he owes people. He has listed his assets for the bankruptcy court. He's not supposed to be out buying land.
So he trusts White to hold it for him? Yeah, right. No. What he does is have White sign a contract with Fain, Price's assistant, assigning the property to a corporate entity in which White and Fain each own a 50 percent interest. As part of that deal, White signs a deed to Fain giving her a 50 percent interest in the land.
That deed is never recorded with the county, meaning it will never be findable by anybody else. It sits in a drawer. Gee, I wonder whose?
White and Fain call their new entity "John Wayne Properties." Get it? John Price? Wayne White? So now what's the deal? Is it that White and Price really own the property, but Price doesn't put his name on it because he's concealing assets, so he puts Fain's name on it to keep White in line?
Maybe. Maybe not, because the FBI affidavit also says Price himself paid the taxes and made all the loan payments, both for himself and for White. So does White own anything? He must, because in 2003 Price pays White serious money for White's half interest in the Grady Niblo land. Well, he pays somebody.
Hey, watch: This is the day I wrote about a year ago, when Price buys Grady Niblo from two people, one of whom doesn't own it. All mysteries shall be revealed.
Price gets a deed from White giving Price 100 percent ownership of Grady Niblo. But then he also gets a quit-claim deed from Fain surrendering her 50 percent interest.
It actually gets squirrelier. In addition to paying White $125,000 for the land, he pays White another $25,303.71 as a "partnership adjustment." The FBI says in the affidavit that they think that second amount is to pay off the portion of the previous mortgage that was in Fain's name.
Price borrowed all of this money from his friendly Forney bank, now called City Bank of Forney. And I have to say, they must be really friendly. I'm trying to imagine going to any bank and saying, "I want a $125,000 of your money to pay for some land. That will be collateralized by the land. And then I want to give the guy another 25 G's of your money for a side deal which will not be collateralized by the land." They say sure.
Oh, well. Must be a Forney thing.
Fast forward to February of this year. Price sells Grady Niblo for $750,000 to a guy named W.O. Henry for development as HUD housing of some kind. That deal gets bollixed up when the title company learns there are "other monies that were negotiated outside of the closing." The old "other monies" thing.
Next thing, the FBI nabs some $200,000 that has already exchanged hands in that deal, claiming it is all proceeds of criminal activity. And that more or less brings us to today.
So why bring it all up again? First, to complete the record a little better. Second, because the Grady Niblo deal is only a window, a drop in the bucket, a fraction of the overall case the FBI has been building against Price.
Like I say, the feds are stingy. They probably figure somebody still owes them 16 years.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.