Helena Tantillo, a former Austin tech executive on the outer edges of the federal corruption case against Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, was sentenced Friday to six months in federal prison for lying to FBI agents investigating the case against Price.
Tantillo's company, BearingPoint, employed Christian Campbell as a consultant. The two were also romantically involved. Last July, Campbell admitted to serving as a bag man for payoffs between Tantillo and Kathy Nealy, Price's campaign manager and alleged co-conspirator, and agreed to testify against Price. At her trial, which ended with a conviction in January, Tantillo disputed Campbell's version of events.
Tantillo said she gave Campbell $7,500 in 2004 when BearingPoint was fighting for a contract to digitize Dallas County records so that he could give it to Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell's favorite charity. Campbell says Tantillo knew he was going to give the money to Nealy, who would then kick a portion of it back to Price. Given her seemingly light sentence, there's been speculation that she might, like Campbell, testify against Price. The U.S. Attorney's Office isn't commenting, but Jeff Ansley, a former federal prosecutor who helped convict Dallas City Council member Don Hill on corruption charges, says that's extremely unlikely.
"If she testified contrary to Campbell — the government will, presumably use Campbell at trial — if she went the other way in comparison to Campbell's testimony in this case, then she's of no use to [federal prosecutors] for Price," he says.
On the other hand, if Price's defense attorney's were to use Tantillo's testimony to contradict anything Campbell says, the fact she was already convicted wouldn't help Price's case, Ansley says.
Tantillo's sentence is more likely a reflection of federal judges' changing attitudes toward sentencing defendants with clean records. "More and more, more so say than 10 years ago, judges are sentencing fraud defendants, and especially minimal players like her, to far more reasonable sentences," he says.
Price, Nealy and Price's assistant Dapheny Fain are set to go on trial in September. The trial will likely still be running on November 8, when Price will be up for reelection to the spot on the commissioner's court he's held for over two decades. If convicted, he faces the loss of his seat in addition to federal prison time.
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