Arrests by federal agents this morning of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price on bribery conspiracy charges, along with charges against three associates, have set off a new round in everybody's favorite courthouse whisper game, "Who's flipped?"
Multiple sources this morning say federal agents have arrested Price, who was indicted along with his loyal longtime personal assistant, Daphne Fain, and a powerful Dallas political consultant and friend to the Clinton family, Kathy Nealy. The feds' indictment is below.
Few people with knowledge ever thought Fain would turn on her boss and cooperate with the feds, but for months there has been speculation that Nealy, potentially a much more powerful ally for the prosecution, would cooperate. Her indictment this morning is either a very clever feint or an indication she's not going to help the feds put Price in prison.
The U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas will lay out charges against Price at a news conference later this morning. Court documents filed since a raid on Price's home and office over three years ago depict a wide-ranging probe of his business transactions, personal financial activities including land transactions and a bankruptcy.
Fain's attorney, Tom Mills, has indicated to me consistently since the raids that she will not cooperate with the feds against Price. Whatever knowledge she may have, however, goes toward the small-bore side of Price's activities.
The federal indictment on display below outlines an alleged bribery scheme in which Nealy and Christian Lloyd Campbell, himself a "consultant" and former Nealy employee, funneled money to Price in exchange for favorable votes for their clients, who had business with the county. Price also is accused of feeding their clients inside information on their competitors for county bids. The indictment says Nealy funneled more than $950,000 in "corrupt payments and benefits" -- cash, land and vehicles -- to Price.
It's Nealy who knows the bigger picture. Nealy has worked for the Perot family interests in the past, for a time occupying a fancy private suite at American Airlines Center when the basketball arena was still in Perot hands. After the raids, that suite became the focus of litigation and an IRS probe.
Nealy has occupied key positions in national Democratic Party campaigns and, with a few others like recently retired lawyer DeMetris Sampson, has been Price's conduit to the larger world beyond his Dallas County stronghold. If there are bigger bones than his own financial peccadilloes to be found in Price's closet, she would know what they are. Her arrest today, along with an employee of hers, may be viewed with disappointment by people who were hoping the feds had won her over.
But Kathy Nealy can be complicated. She played an ambiguous role in the 2010 prosecution of former Dallas City Council member Don Hill, sentenced to 18 years in prison for corruption in 2010. She denied on the stand at first that she had been given a plea deal by the feds in exchange for her testimony against Hill, allowing her to escape any shadow of complicity, but then under cross examination by Hill's attorneys she more or less conceded that she and the feds had come to a meeting of the minds.
The reason everybody has been playing "Who's flipped?" for three years is that most of the so-called hard evidence scooped up by the feds -- $229,000 found in a safe in his Oak Cliff home, for example, or his collection of rare automobiles -- can be interpreted any number of ways, some of them exculpatory. Price's attorney, Billy Ravkind, will be able to bring many people to the stand who will testify that Price has always been a sharp trader in goods and land, easily capable of amassing that much cash and that many cars without breaking any laws.
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Meanwhile his longtime popularity in southern Dallas will definitely find its way into the jury pool, making it tough for the government to bring him down with a complicated, abstract or loosey-goosey prosecution based on the idea that he's got too much stuff and money for a man of his means. What the feds really need, most observers agree, is a person or people who will point the finger and say, "He and I conspired to do such and such, and, by the way, I taped him."
That's the question that will be on people's minds at today's press conference.