Bill Fisher handed the FBI a chance to clean up City Hall. Does that make Fisher Mr. Clean?

The scene could have been lifted from any of a dozen cops-and-robbers movies: Nervous crooks and an undercover informant gather for a secret meeting. The bad guys are suspicious. Someone—they just know it—is wearing a wire. Tension mounts. Things look bleak for the wired-up hero.

Bill Fisher knows that scene. He lived it.

On a mid-January evening in 2005, Fisher, the man who helped the FBI crack the largest political corruption case in Dallas history, sat with former City Plan Commissioner D'Angelo Lee at Lee's rented loft in the South Side on Lamar building. Car dealer Rickey Robertson and con man Jibreel Rashad were there, claiming to be construction contractors. Robertson and Rashad had formed a phony company called RA-MILL just one month earlier, with Lee as a hidden partner. (Rashad, coincidentally, had just wrapped up a mortgage fraud scheme that would eventually land him more than 11 years in a federal prison.)

Fisher, whose business was using federal tax credits and tax-exempt bonds to build apartments for low-income tenants, needed city council support for a new project, and Lee claimed he could help him secure a vote from Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill.

First, Lee wanted money.

That's why Fisher had a tiny video camera attached to his lapel. A thick cord ran down his left side underneath his shirt and into his pants pocket to a recording gadget. A switch to turn the devices on and off rested inside a coat pocket. A transmitter, clipped on the outside of his black bag and disguised as a garage door opener, fed live audio to federal agents nearby.

"This wasn't MacGyver," Fisher recalls from his office alongside the Hilton at Lincoln Centre, where the Observer met him for his first lengthy post-case interview in mid-December. "The stuff was cumbersome, obvious."

The four men had previously discussed two options to win Hill's vote and city council approval of a zoning change needed in Hill's district for Fisher's Dallas West Village—a name Lee suggested because he often spent time in Uptown's trendy West Village. The first option would require Fisher to ink a series of contracts with RA-MILL for subcontracting work at several of his affordable-housing projects, including one for $180,000 to install concrete and dry wall at Dallas West Village. Or Fisher could simply write a check for $540,000—roughly 3 percent of the total cost for Dallas West Village. And what work would Lee, Rashad and Robertson perform for all that dough? None.

Fisher balked. The men lacked experience, and they refused to provide him with paperwork he needed to provide to the underwriters of his development loan.

That made Lee angry. He raised his voice and accused Fisher of taping the conversation and asking "incriminating" questions. During the argument that followed, the FBI called Fisher's cell phone claiming to be his son and used code phrases to let him know agents were unsure of his location in the building and the video was about to run out.

"Check his bag!" Lee said, unaware of who was on the other end of the call.

"I had three large guys, certainly fitter and younger than I was, pissed off, yelling at me, pointing their fingers in my face and then searching my bag," Fisher says.

While Rashad rifled through the bag, the feds asked Fisher if he was all right. "Yes. Bye, sweetie," he replied. Rashad found nothing. Fisher spurned the contracts and offered instead, as the feds had instructed him, to simply pay the men off. Lee was suspicious.

"I think that you're trying to entrap me," Lee said before he left the meeting early without resolving the issue. After he left, Rashad told Fisher that Lee was worried that Fisher had been taping him for months. Fisher offered to meet next time in a sauna or swimming pool, but Rashad and Robertson were convinced Lee was simply paranoid. The two sides eventually failed to reach an agreement, and Fisher saw his zoning case delayed by Hill.

The meeting and the apparent payback for Fisher's refusal to pay would eventually become part of the massive federal case that led to convictions for Lee, Robertson, Rashad and Hill along with 10 other defendants.

Today, despite the near-miss during that 2005 meeting, Fisher says he was never really worried that he was in any danger—not with FBI agents sitting on the other end of that transmitter. Still, Fisher wishes that he hadn't had to get so deeply involved in the case. "I don't mean to say that they misled me," he says of the FBI. "It just turned out to be more than we imagined. Perhaps it was more than they imagined."

You might think that by now there would be a Fisher statue at City Hall Plaza, or a least a plaque somewhere. After all, his work helped expose a broad vein of corruption. As a result of his extensive cooperation, Don Hill's sitting in a federal penitentiary in Kentucky for as much as 18 years, while his wife, Sheila Farrington Hill, is 700 miles away in Florida serving a nine-year sentence. Lee received 14 years; Rashad, four years and nine months; and Robertson, three years. South Dallas shakedown artists Darren Reagan (14 years) and Allen McGill (two years), former NFL linebacker and concrete contractor Kevin Dean (two years) and lawyer John Lewis (one year and one day) also were convicted in the conspiracy.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten