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Former Dallas County Schools Chief Gets Seven Years for Role in Bribery Scheme

The former chief of a now-defunct school bus agency was sentenced Tuesday as part of a federal corruption investigation.EXPAND
The former chief of a now-defunct school bus agency was sentenced Tuesday as part of a federal corruption investigation.
iStock/leekris

Former Dallas County Schools Superintendent Rick Sorrells is going to spend the next seven years in prison. Sixteen months ago, Sorrells, 73, pleaded guilty to taking more than $3 million in cash and other assets from a company that stocked DCS with cameras for a program that ticketed drivers who illegally passed stopped school buses.

“You were living high on the hog,” Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn told Sorrells during his sentencing hearing, according to reporters in the federal courtroom. "You were supposed to be a faithful servant to your community ... I don’t forgive you for what you did."

Sorrells signed the district up for more than $70 million in contracts with Force Multiplier Solutions, a now-defunct Louisiana company, to provide the cameras, which were supposed to generate a big stream of revenue for the district.

The money didn't materialize — in part because of judges throwing out many of the tickets issued based on evidence from the cameras — and the district was stuck with the bill. Amid the fallout from the failed camera program and a series of managerial missteps, Dallas County voters approved dissolving DCS in November.

According to federal court documents, Sorrells began receiving payments from a company selling the district cameras in 2010. (Force Multiplier Solutions isn't mentioned in Sorrells' indictment by name, but it's the only company that sold stop-arm cameras to DCS, according to KXAS-TV.)

After DCS agreed to buy between 100 and 150 cameras from Force Multiplier Solutions in 2010, the company began to make payments to Sorrells through a series of shell companies set up by the superintendent.

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Eventually, the company began paying Sorrells' credit card bills and other debts in order to avoid direct cash payments, according to Sorrells' plea agreement. Slater Swartwood Sr., the former owner of Force Multiplier Solutions, pleaded guilty in 2017 to federal money laundering charges related to the bribes paid to Sorrells.

"This defendant pocketed a whopping $3.5 million in bribes, simultaneously crippling the agency he was tapped to lead and undermining the public’s trust in city officials. The citizens of Dallas deserve better — and they should rest assured that we are committed to rooting out public corruption wherever we find it," U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox said in a statement.

In addition to Sorrells, two other former Dallas County public officials, former Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway and former Dallas City Council member and DCS Board President Larry Duncan, also pleaded guilty to accepting bribes related to the stop-arm camera program.

In April, Lynn sentenced Duncan to six months of home confinement and three years of probation. Caraway is serving a 56-month federal prison sentence for taking about $450,000 in bribes related to the stop-arm program.

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