A Dallas County official was arrested by the FBI on Friday on charges that he accepted more than $950,000 in bribes in the form of money, cars and land in exchange for steering county business to particular companies.
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and three associates face charges of mail fraud, tax fraud, bribery and other malfeasance, according to a 13-count indictment unsealed Friday. Price pleaded not guilty at a court appearance Friday.
"For more than a decade, in a shocking betrayal of public trust, Commissioner Price sold his office on the Dallas County Commissioners Court in exchange for a steady stream of bribes," said Sarah Saldaña, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, at a Friday briefing.
As Price left the courtroom, he told a crowd of reporters outside that he was "not guilty" and wanted to "get back to work," and he left in a dark-colored SUV.
Billy Ravkind, Price's attorney, told the Dallas Morning News that he first learned of the commissioner’s arrest from media reports.
“I've never had this happen before. You win or lose cases in the courtroom. What the government does is irrelevant," he said. He did not return calls Friday afternoon.
Among the alleged ill-gotten gains: $447,000 in cash and checks, four pieces of land, a BMW and $50,000 in African art that Price referred to as “the priceless collection.”
The charges come after a three-year investigation that pitted federal officials against Price, 64, one of the most powerful politicians in north Texas. Elected in 1984, he was the county's first African American commissioner, a populist turned powerbroker known to many as "our man downtown."
Saldaña and investigators from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service described at Friday's briefing how they say Price capitalized on his office for more than a decade with help from assistant Dapheny Fain, who was also charged in the case. They are accused of steering county business to firms represented by consultant Kathy Nealy, and her associate Christian Lloyd Campbell and concealing the payments from government authorities.
Federal investigators allege that Price not only voted in favor of Nealy’s clients, he also gave them confidential information about county projects before they were put up for bid, according to the 107-page indictment. One set of companies benefited from $17.5 million in county business through the scheme, according to the indictment.
The FBI has been investigating Price since at least summer 2011, when dozens of agents searched his home and office, as well as the homes of Fain and Nealy.
Price faces 11 counts of bribery, mail and tax fraud and if convicted, faces a cumulative maximum of 33 years in prison and $1.5-million fine. Saldaña said authorities would seek to recover some of the money, although it was not clear how much.