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Money, Motions And Courtroom Maneuvers In The Commissioner Price Case

BJ Austin

The federal government is stepping up courtroom moves to seize nearly $500,000 from Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and his assistant, even though no one has been charged in the criminal bribery and money laundering investigation.

Federal prosecutors are seeking a default judgment in the civil forfeiture case against Price and his assistant, Dapheny Fain.  The move comes after the judge in the case denied Price and Fain's request to  delay the forfeiture proceedings.

If the default judgment is granted, the government would get $230,000 found in a safe during a raid of Price’s home, and about the same amount confiscated from a land deal. Price and Fain each claim half of the cash in the safe. Their lawyers say it was money from legal business dealings.

Defense attorney Kimberly Priest-Johnson, who's not associated with the case, says there is no legal requirement that charges must be filed in a criminal case before the government can seek civil forfeiture of funds. She says a civil case first is unusual, but it happens.

“There is a time requirement for civil forfeiture charges to be brought, and if they’re not brought within that time frame, the government is prohibited from bringing them again,” says Priest-Johnson.

She suspects that the criminal case is not ready yet and that the clock was ticking on the forfeiture deadline. She says Price and Fain have an uphill battle.

“My guess is that these assets are going to be seized,” says Priest-Johnson.

If there is a criminal trial and the two are acquitted, she says, the government must return the money. And if there is a criminal trial, the high-profile, much-publicized civil action could pose a problem.

"If we get to the point that we’re looking at criminal charges and a potential jury pool, yes, we’re looking at a real problem in this case with everything that’s already been out in the media with finding jurors that can be non-biased and act as fair judges in the case,” says Priest-Johnson.

Federal prosecutors decline comment on investigations or pending cases. There is no indication on when Judge Sidney Fitzwater will rule in the forfeiture case.

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.