In a surprising move late Thursday afternoon, the defense for Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and his executive assistant Dapheny Fain rested their case after calling only two witnesses.
Price is accused of taking nearly $1 million in bribes and tax evasion. Fain is charged with lying to FBI agents during the course of their investigation of Price. The case was expected to last until at least the end of the month. Closing arguments are now scheduled to begin Tuesday morning. Price will not take the stand, despite his telling Dallas Morning News reporter Naomi Martin last month that he wanted to do so.
After more than six weeks of government testimony from a roster of FBI agents, IRS agents, Dallas County officials and representatives of companies that allegedly provided bribes to Price, the defense hung its case on the testimony of forensic accountant Chris Dellinges, a paid expert. Over the course of two days, Dellinges laid out the defense team's theory of the case for jurors. While Price's financial activities were suspicious, Dellinges testified, they weren't criminal.
"On the surface, all of that looks suspicious," he said. "But that's subject to explanation."
According to Dellinges testimony, the almost $1 million in bribes prosecutors allege Price received from his longtime political consultant Kathy Nealy were in fact repayments for loans Price gave to Nealy. Backing up claims made by the defense throughout the trial, Dellinges said that he found documentation showing that allegedly illegal transactions between Price and Nealy and Price and Fain were for undocumented loans Price gave the women over the course of their decades-long friendships.
He showed jurors a chart he put together with the help of a team of law students pointing to corresponding documents that he said explained many of the payments between Price, Nealy and Fain. He pointed to memo lines on checks from Fain to Price as proof that the transactions weren't illegal. There was a "steady stream in and out" of payments, Dellinges said, a pattern that indicated the intent behind the transactions. Throughout the trial, prosecutors said that the memos on the checks were obfuscations intended to hide the payments' genuine purpose.
Assistant Dallas County Administrator Gordon Hikel also testified.
The defense team's decision to cut their case short comes at the end of week that began with U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn coming down hard on prosecutors for improperly withholding evidence from the defense for a fourth time in case. While she refused defense requests for a mistrial or acquittal, Lynn told jurors about the prosecutors' repeated missteps and said Thursday afternoon that she may elect not to include some elements of the government's case against Price in the final charge she gives jurors.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.