This week of testimony, the sixth in the United States' corruption trial of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and his executive assistant Dapheny Fain, was not a good one for federal prosecutors.
As the government neared the end of its case, prosecutors provoked U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn by admitting that they'd failed to turn over evidence pertaining to the roles played in the decades-long investigation of Price by several FBI and IRS agents. Lynn, clearly upset, sent the jury home early Tuesday, ordering to the court reporter to record that she felt "angst" at the fact that she had to order the prosecution to turn over the documents as quickly as possible.
Despite calls from Fain's lead defense attorney, Tom Mills, for a mistrial, Lynn, who's kept a steady hand throughout the trial, ordered that the show would go on, despite her displeasure. With the prosecution expected to rest its case early next week, here's what you should know about this week in Dallas' ongoing legal soap opera.
The IRS against Price — Monday, prosecutors did their best to shore up the case for the lesser accusations against Price — that he failed to report the income he received in the form of nearly $1 million in bribes from his political consultant Kathy Nealy and others. Criminals, as IRS agent Rene Hammett told the jury, are still required to report and pay taxes on their ill-gotten gains. In 2002, despite reporting only $25,000 in net income, Hammett told the jury, Price had about $100,000 in disposable income as the result of cash bribes from Nealy.
Hammett outlined for the jury how the IRS figured out the amount of money it claims Price made, and didn't report, from the sale of African art at Karen Manning's art gallery as well.
Later in the week, following the near mistrial, Shirley Baccus-Lobel, Price's lead defense attorney, pressed a combative Hammett repeatedly about the veracity of the government's tabulation of the amount of unreported cash Price made from art sales. Hammett's conclusions, the attorney said, were shaky because she'd estimated Price's potential profits based on the markup reflected on price tags for items that hadn't sold.
"Are you uncomfortable with estimating the money Price made from art?" Baccus-Lobel asked Hammett, according to reports from the courtroom. "No, I don't feel uncomfortable," the agent responded, pointing to the partial records the government received from Manning, who took the stand against Price last month as part of a plea deal she reached on tax charges in 2015.
As Baccus-Lobel and Hammett went back and forth, the agent eventually let out a small chuckle at the questions, which she viewed as only being about a "small part of [the IRS'] case."
Prosecutors called out their last witness. — Tuesday morning, prosecutors called FBI agent Allen Wilson, the witness who was supposed to be the cleanup hitter, the last the jury saw from the prosecution, to the stand. Wilson, one of the lead investigators into Price, told jurors about the pole cams the FBI set up on utility poles outside Price's Lake Cliff home before telling the court how the FBI determined that the Chevy Avalanche that Price used as his daily driver had been provided to him by Nealy.
All agents did, according to Wilson, was run the trucks plates in 2010. At first, they believed Nealy may have been visting Price, but then they observed the car in photos of Price's house that popped up during a Google street view search. Price's Aston Martin, which the FBI knew he'd traded for a Bentley in 2007 was in the photos, so Wilson knew that Price had had the car at least that long, Wilson said.
Later, Price began driving a new Avalanche, but the FBI agents watching quickly determined that it was registered to Nealy as well — another bribe meant to buy Price influence and secret information for Nealy's clients.
The near mis(trial) — Despite Lynn's obvious consternation, the only remedy she offered defense attorneys for the prosecution's evidence handling snafu was the ability to cross-examine a couple of government witnesses for the second time. She turned down Mills' request for mistrial, and turned down further requests that the testimony from several prosecution witnesses be struck from the record.
In the end, Lynn ordered FBI agent Don Sherman and FBI accountant David Garcia back to the stand, so Price and Fain's attorneys could delve further into the role they played in the corruption investigation.
Sherman retakes the stand. — Wednesday, Sherman, who suffered a debilitating stroke that took him off the Price case in 2012, retook the stand, per Lynn's orders. He wasn't there long. Despite their protestations the day before, defense attorneys had less than half an hour of questions for the agent. Sherman answered questions about the pole cameras the FBI used to conduct surveillance on Price's Lake Cliff home, before Tom Mills, who represents Price's chief of staff and co-defendant Dapheny Fain, asked him about an email sent by Sherman in which FBI agents said they were going to "dirty up" political consultant Kathy Nealy's emails.
"It's not something we do to email, it's something we find in email," Sherman said of the communication about Nealy, who will go on trial for bribing Price later this year.
Wednesday afternoon, Lynn dismissed the jury for the weekend, in order to give the defense time to go through the evidence they received this week about Garcia's role in the investigation of Price and Fain. On Monday, the trial will resume with the FBI accountant's cross examination. When that's over, prosecutors are expected to rest their case.
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.