Big Fisher: Schutze is Back at the City Hall Trial As the Feds' Informant Takes the Stand

Victor Vital, Sheila Farrington Hill's attorney, is cross examining Allen McGill, Darren Reagan's partner in the Black State Employees Association of Texas (BSEAT), which prosecutors have characterized as a fake union and extortion scam. McGill, a defendant in the City Hall corruption case, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the prosecutors. All this, incidentally, is a prelude to the testimony of afforable-housing developer and FBI informant Bill Fisher, who's been at the Earle Cabell Federal Building and Courthouse since yesterday awaiting his turn on the stand.

But, till them, back to McGill, a tall, bespectacled, gray-bearded man with a professorial bearing and speech. Vital led McGill through a long series of questions designed to show the jury that McGill only pleaded guilty to protect his wife, Gail Terrell, the District 8 Park Board member, appointed by Tennell Atkins. She has a minor role in some of the events in the case.

Hey. Do you have any idea what this trial is about? I have been chatting with a lot of people who say they really don't get it. My two-bit summary would be this: The federal government claims that former Dallas City council member Don Hill was leader of a ring of people who used phony claims of racial injustice to extort money from real estate developers.

The defense argues that the claims were not phony, and, anyway, none of the events cited by the feds is linked directly to Hill in what the law calls a direct quid pro quo -- as in, gimme the cash, I'll sell you my vote.

Vital is the lawyer for Hill's wife, who is a defendant. Here, and throughout the trial, he's setting up an alternative explanation for the apparent facts in the hope the jury sees a difference. Vital is done, and now Marcus Busch, the government lawyer, has just taken over.

Yesterday the defense got McGill to agree to a laundry list of good things that were done by BSEAT, including a lot of scholarships awarded to students. Busch is getting McGill to agree that many of the scholarships never got paid.

"Why did you and Mr. Reagan engage in extortion in 2004?" Busch asks.

"Well, we obviously wanted to make money," McGill says.

Sounds pretty clear. But, remember: McGill has a deal with the government. This probably is a rehearsed question. It has to be asked this way, and it has to be answered this way, or McGill doesn't get his deal, meaning he could be hit with a tougher sentence when this is all over.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze