The Biggest (and Funniest) Revelations So Far in the Federal City Hall Corruption Trial
Everybody knew it was about "pay-to-play" at City Hall. Don Hill, a former city council member and 13 alleged confederates are accused of strong-arming real estate developers for money.
But nobody knew...
1. Carol Reed's name would come up. Reed is the top political guru and campaign consultant to the old Dallas establishment. Reed got kind of thrown under the bus by a fellow political hack, Kathy Nealy, who volunteered in testimony that Reed had helped engineer a smelly deal: They set it up so a council member could get contracts for his security guard company in what sure looked to the feds like a trade-out for his vote on a zoning issue. Reed's been outta town and unavailable for comment. Well, yeah! She works for Mayor Tom Leppert and the Citizens Council. How much do you think she wants to talk about this?
2. Nobody knew Kathy Nealy was so deep in it. Nealy, another political fixer like Reed, only for black Dallas, has her own suite at American Airlines Center -- a place that exists only because Nealy, hired by Ross Perot Jr., got South Dallas to vote for the bonds to help build the center. So she's big too. But she was in all the meetings where people put pressure on developer Bill Fisher to pay off. She works for those Citizens Council types too. She was in the witness stand a full day!
3. Who knew Comer Cottrell would look so bad? Haircare magnate and big Republican Cottrell had put out his own story months ago: He said Fisher came to him, trying to get him to bribe Don Hill, and he more or less threw him out. But not according to the testimony. Sounds more like Cottrell and Fisher struck a deal. More to come on this? Gotta be.
Sheila Farrington and Don Hill outside the federal courthouse
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4. No normal everyday citizen-type person knew how much money people get paid for talking council members into voting a certain way. One lawyer-lobbyist, Susan Mead, testified that she gets $585 an hour. Nealy told the court she only gets a couple bills an hour, poor thing, but in one of her deals she got a $20,000 bonus every time she got a development deal approved and finalized. Man! No wonder the people on the council feel so important about themselves.
5. Most people wouldn't have guessed that the Dallas city attorney advises the city council how to break the law. In that security guard deal, former Mayor Laura Miller smelled a rat and forced the council to call a special meeting. She thought it was crooked. Behind closed doors, protected by secrecy rules, the city attorney told them it was all OK. The FBI didn't think so. That's why we have this trial going on.
6. How many people knew before this trial what it's worth in southern Dallas not to do any work? According to testimony, Fisher was told he had to sign up a group of inexperienced wannabe subcontractors. When he complained that they were too inexperienced, the wannabes offered him what they called "Plan B." Under Plan B, they would agree not to do any work at all, for a fee of $540,000. Don't even try to understand.
7. Equity! It's not just for the Inland Port. The Observer has done lots of coverage of attempts by local officials to hamper development of a huge truck and railroad hub called the inland port in southern Dallas, all because the developer wouldn't give into demands for "equity." What does that mean? Local pols wanted the main developer to give 15 percent of his company to a group of their friends, all under a battle cry of "EQUITY!" Well, guess what. The old "E" word has come up in the trial. Defendant Darren Reagan demanded half -- HALF! -- of Fisher's company, telling him, "We are talking about equity! Equity!"
8. The suspects in the City Hall case thought they were being taped. But they kept making self-incriminating statements anyway. At one point, one of them demanded to know what was in Bill Fisher's briefcase that he kept putting on the table and aiming at them. Was it a camera? Fisher told him to search it if thought there was camera in there. The suspect said never mind. Wrong answer. It was a camera.
9. One time when Fisher was taping them, things started getting out of hand. The FBI was worried about Fisher's safety. They called him on his cell and asked if he was OK. "Yes," he said. "Good-bye, sweetie."
10. And, finally. Ray Jackson, Hill's lawyer, introduced himself to former Mayor Laura Miller by reminding her that she once appointed him to something, adding "You may not remember." She said, "I don't." Later, when Jackson stumbled on some names and had to keep starting over on a question. Miller said, "I appointed you to something?"