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What Constitutes A Bribe? Federal Corruption Trial Opens In Dallas

Dallas City Hall.
Tony Gutierrez
Associated Press
Two former Dallas City Councilmembers Dwaine Caraway and Carolyn Davis are caught up in a federal corruption trial of developer Ruel Hamilton.

The federal corruption trial of developer Ruel Hamilton continues in Dallas. He’s accused of bribing now-former Dallas City Councilmembers Dwaine Caraway and Carolyn Davis to get their help securing tax credits and support for building housing developments.

The two sides in the case are arguing about whether Hamilton’s actions were a bribe. Caraway testified for the prosecution on Tuesday. He recounted taking money from Hamilton in a 2018 meeting. On the recording of the meeting, Hamilton reiterated that he wanted to develop a certain parcel in Caraway’s district.

KERA’s Bret Jaspers talked to Kevin Krause, who is covering the trial for the Dallas Morning News.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity


Bret Jaspers: From watching the opening statements and also the testimony on Tuesday, does it appear that the arguments for both sides hinge to some degree on whether the jury thinks Caraway is honest or not? He is currently serving time for an unrelated corruption charge.

Kevin Krause: I think so, yes. Caraway is a key witness for the government. Carolyn Davis, the other former council member who was accused of accepting bribes from Hamilton, died before the case could go to trial. So really, Caraway is one of the few direct witnesses to these events. Of course, he already has a federal conviction for corruption. The credibility of any witness is an important issue, one that the jury has to evaluate for themselves.

BJ: The defense is arguing this is normal lobbying, nothing untoward about it.

KK: The defense pointed out that there’s no evidence to come forward so far that explicitly shows tit-for-tat, that the money that Hamilton gave to the public officials was done so with the expressed condition that certain votes and other official actions be taken on his behalf. Their defense is that Ruel Hamilton gave campaign money to numerous candidates over the years. He was a very active participant in local government.

BJ: The video of Caraway and Hamilton is supposed to be evidence that this was untoward, right? This phone call that Caraway made to Hamilton, and then a later meeting--those are supposed to be the examples, according to the prosecutors, of this being corrupt.

KK: Yeah, exactly. This video was played more than once. But some of these things are kind of nuanced. Nobody comes out and says ‘Ok, I’m giving you money, and I expect you to do X or Y.’

The defense claims that the defendant, Ruel Hamilton, was merely trying to help out a friend out of generosity, because Caraway was complaining about his health problems and his mother’s health problems, sounding really desperate. The defense is saying the government is trying to link unrelated events to make it look like there’s illegal activity going on when there’s really a good explanation for it.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.