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Street Tax

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Whew. We just spent a couple of hours reading the 166-page indictment from the feds' investigation into alleged bribery and extortion at City Hall, charges concerning a federal low-income housing program and other tax-supported real-estate doings. Thought we'd try to spare all you people with real jobs the trouble or reading it yourselves, though you really should check it out. It's a tough slog, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Sort of like reading a Faulkner novel.

For now here's what you need to know to sound knowledgeable around the ol' water cooler: The indictment essentially alleges that former city council member Don Hill sat at the center of a conspiracy to levy a street tax on developer Brian Potashnik's Southwest Housing Development Co., a tax Potashnik more or less willingly paid.

All of which leads us to two conclusions. First, we owe the feds, whom we've berated for taking so damn long to conclude its investigation, a huge apology. Good things come to those who wait. Sorry, guys, we're an impatient bunch in the press. Second, we are just heartsick that Hill didn't manage to pull off his run for mayor this year. Having a sitting mayor face this doozy of an indictment for the next several months or years would have provided us more entertainment than an Xbox, a Slinky, a case of Silly Putty and a bag of weed combined.

How did the allege scheme work? According to the feds, Hill and his appointee to the City Plan and Zoning Commission, D'Angelo Lee, had it in their power to delay or stymie votes Potashnik's company needed to get tax credits to build low-income apartment buildings. Instead of basing their votes on banal reasons -- the good of the community, for example -- Lee essentially acted as Hill's agent, either selling votes to a willing buyer (Potashnik) or threatening to delay or halt votes at unless their co-conspirators were given lucrative "consulting" or construction contracts.

Hill's former mistress and current wife, Sheila Farrington, is accused as acting as both bag woman and money launderer, since she allegedly was a cutout who collected the checks from Potashnik's company and distributed the proceeds. Potashnik's wife, Cheryl, is also named in the indictment. She authorized many of the checks sent to Farrington's "consulting" firm.

The mafia kept the wives out of the family business, but things are more modern and open-minded here in Dallas ... either that, or we really are more keen on family values.

There are similar charges involving Hill, Lee and others concerning real estate schemes apart from the dealings with Southwest Housing. The general outline is the same -- votes = cash -- though the cast of players and the projects vary.

The Potashniks also stand accused of providing free rent and electricity to state Rep. Terri Hodge in exchange for her influence. One of the grimmest claims in the indictment is just how little it (allegedly) takes to buy a state lawmaker. Seven hundred bucks for rent? Geez, what pikers.

Even cheesier, the indictment alleges that those who needed Hill's influence were pushed to contribute to his birthday party and to provide him some tailored shirts, so he would feel appreciated. Maybe we'll get to see some of those shirts in court.

Sorry, we're being flip when the appropriate response here is anger: Nearly every nickel and dime that Hill et. al. is accused of filching here came straight out of programs intended to help provide decent homes to poor, often elderly people. Every cent thus diverted was indeed a tax, one levied indirectly on people the least able to afford it and going (allegedly) into the pockets of those elected and appointed to represent poor folks' interests. Yeah, we really do wish Don Hill had been elected mayor. That would have made watching the spit-roasting he's facing so much more satisfying. --Patrick Williams

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