The most ominous thing for the defense after three full weeks of the federal prosecution of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price is the sheer volume of evidence. This week, the Department of Justice hammered the point home again and again.
It's a smorgasbord for the jury. If they don't like the transactions prosecutors have identified as bribes, they can focus on Price's alleged unreported income and the tax evasion that followed. If they don't consider either of those issues proof enough to send Price to federal prison, they can focus on straw purchases of cars and property made for him by his political consultant and co-defendant Kathy Nealy. The government, it seems, can miss some punches but throw 10 more and hope to connect with a clean shot.
Here's what worth knowing from the week's proceedings:
The reason the guys who paid the bribes aren't getting charged. — Hillwood's former chief counsel, David Newsom, took the stand Tuesday to talk about Price's role in getting Hillwood included in a major piece of south Dallas County's inland port project. To hear him tell it, he was absolutely shocked when he discovered some of the money Hillwood was paying Nealy in hopes that she would secure access to Price was going to Price directly. Had he known, he said, he would've terminated the relationship. As prosecutors warned the jury way back during jury selection, the guys who originally had the money that allegedly went to Price weren't indicted because, when they gave it to Nealy, the cash wasn't yet a bribe. It was Nealy, prosecutors say, who converted the cash into bribes when she gave it to Price.
Understanding the Inland Port mess might be the key to understanding Price and his place in Dallas. — Jim Schutze can explain this better than anyone, but it's not hard to view the ultimate failure of the Inland Port project, which would've brought thousands of jobs to Price's district, as Price's selling out of his own constituency, if you believe the feds. In short, because Price was getting cash from Hillwood through Nealy, according to the feds. Price did everything he could to stall and ultimately scuttle the project, which would've cut into Hillwood's shipping business in Fort Worth. In public, Price dismissed the promise of all those jobs.
"During slavery, everyone had a job," he said, while, in private, he was seemingly doing everything he could to help people like Newsom and Perot.
The defense is sticking to their story about Price just being a nice guy. — Regina Watts, Price's long-time girlfriend, took the stand Thursday to back up prosecutors' assertions that it was Price who had exclusive use of both a BMW convertible and a Chevy Avalanche owned and insured by Nealy. Quickly, however, Judge Lynn took a lot of the juice out of her testimony by shutting down prosecutors when they tried to ask Watts about the potential romantic relationship between Price and Karen Manning, a Dallas art dealer who prosecutors allege helped Price evade taxes by laundering Price cash through her gallery and sales of Price's African art collection. (Manning, who pleaded guilty to tax charges in 2015, testified last week to little effect.)
Watts, a former AT&T senior sales manager, also told jurors about getting AT&T to buy promotional items from Price chief of staff Dapheny Fain's side business MMS, at Price's behest. According to prosecutors, AT&T did more than $1.4 million in business with MMS. From that business, the feds say, Price collected $127,000, which he didn't report on his taxes. Fain is on trial with Price for lying to FBI agents as they investigated Price.
The defense, as it did with Manning and as it has throughout the trial, used Watts to paint Price as a caring person who just can't help helping the women in his life. The money Price took from Nealy or Fain, the defense argues, was all repayments for previous loans, not bribes or untaxed income.
"He has a servant's heart, doesn't he?" Shirley Baccus-Lobel, Price's lead attorney, asked Watts Thursday, according to reporters in the courtroom.
Hinojosa shows up. Briefly. — The superintendent's inclusion on the witness list was curiosity when the list was released, and that's all Hinojosa's testimony ended up being, too. He answered questions for maybe five minutes about a letter Price had sent him in support of tax abatements for Hillwood. Defense attorneys didn't even feel the need to cross examine Hinojosa, thanking him for his service and sending him on his way.
Friday is a day off for participants and jurors. The prosecution resumes presenting it's case against Price at 8 a.m. Monday.
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