City Hall

Convicted of Bribing City Council Members, Developer Ruel Hamilton Wants a Retrial

After his conviction in June, Dallas developer Ruel Hamilton maintains his innocence.
After his conviction in June, Dallas developer Ruel Hamilton maintains his innocence. Getty Images
Ruel Hamilton, the developer who was convicted in June on charges he bribed two former Dallas City Council members, wants the charges against him dropped.

In court filings last week, he and his attorney, Abbe David Lowell, argue the court made several mistaken evidentiary rulings that unfairly influenced the outcome of the trial.

Hamilton and Lowell say that certain damning testimony against the developer was inadmissible hearsay that shouldn’t have been admitted. They also say one of the council members who allegedly took the bribes, the late Carolyn Davis, recanted statements against Hamilton before her death and that this should have been stated in the trial, but it wasn’t.

Lowell didn't respond to requests for comment.

Originally indicted in February 2019, Hamilton is accused of paying Davis and former Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway for help on the City Council with his real estate developments.

Prosecutors claim Davis received $40,000 from Hamilton in “illegal campaign donations for candidates of her choice," which constituted an illegal quid pro quo.

They also assert that Davis was supposed to be established as a political consultant after her council term. Prosecutors believe the plan was to have Davis lobby for Hamilton and others. She was chair of the council's Housing Committee at the time. In 2019, she pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from Hamilton and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their case against him. Four months later, Davis and her daughter died in a traffic accident.

Hamilton’s lawyer says his client's dealings with Davis were legal and he was just helping Davis raise money for the candidates to “help her preserve goodwill with those candidates once she left office.” Hamilton later hired Davis as a consultant, paying her $20,000 in fees from 2015-2018.

Hamilton and Davis also allegedly used the nonprofit Hip Hop Government as a middleman for bribes and to bypass the $1,000 limit on campaign contributions.

Jeremy Scroggins, the owner of the nonprofit, admitted in July 2019 that he was using his nonprofit to funnel bribes between the two. Charges against him included embezzlement from the charity he ran and tax violations.

But because of a plea agreement with the FBI, Scroggins only had to plea guilty to misprision — knowing about a crime but not reporting it — the most minor of his charges. He ended up on the prosecution's witness list against Hamilton in the trial.

“These rulings amounted to denying Mr. Hamilton a fair trial.” – court filing

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Hamilton allegedly paid Caraway $7,000 in 2018 for help with a proposed real estate development in Caraway’s district. The developer also needed help from Davis with his Royal Crest Apartment Complex so it could receive over $2.5 million in public subsidies through City Council, prosecutors say. Hamilton’s attorney claims the $7,000 check he gave to Caraway was actually to pay for medical expenses for the council member and his mother.

The court allowed Scroggins to testify about and speculate on statements Davis made about her dealings with Hamilton before her death. Scroggins previously testified that he had never met Hamilton or had any telephone conversations with him. Additionally, he “was not present when Davis got money from Hamilton,” and he “did not know that Hamilton sought Low Income Housing Tax Credits,” according to court documents.

Because of this, Lowell moved to have this testimony excluded, but the court allowed it.

On one occasion, Davis told Scroggins she in fact wasn’t receiving bribes from Hamilton. On the stand, Scroggins speculated about the conversation, saying he believed Davis was lying. The court wouldn’t allow Hamilton’s team to call witnesses that refuted this testimony.

“Davis told numerous people that Mr. Hamilton had never bribed her and they believed her (as Scroggins had until he became a government witness), but the Court barred this testimony,” Hamilton's legal team said in court filings. Additionally, the government was allowed to suggest in testimony that Hamilton violated local campaign finance laws, even though the court ruled in pretrial that this would be inadmissible.

“These rulings amounted to denying Mr. Hamilton a fair trial,” his lawyer said, according to court records. “A new trial is warranted.”

Last week, prosecutors asked the court to deny the developer's request for acquittal or a retrial.

Hamilton faces up to 25 years in federal prison.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn