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Dallas City Hall Corruption Trial Begins

Don Hill & wife Sheila at pre-trial prayer vigil

By BJ Austin

Dallas, TX –

The Dallas City Hall "corruption case" goes to trial today. KERA's BJ Austin says it's the culmination of an investigation into bribery and kickbacks that began five years ago.

A chorus of prayers rises from the blacktop of a downtown Dallas parking lot on the eve of the trial. Several dozen friends of former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill gathered to pray. In a matter of hours Hill and his wife Shelia would be in federal court, a block away, facing charges of bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax evasion.

The charges involve lucrative tax credits for low income housing developments, and required city council approval. The government alleges housing developer Brian Potashnik paid thousands of dollars to sham contractors or companies - associates of Hill's. And, that the money funneled to Hill. Prosecutors say the Mayor Pro Tem then steered contracts Potashnik's way. It was a rival developer who complained of a shake down to the FBI, and turned informant - wearing a wire.

Pastor Kenneth Washington at the prayer vigil for Don and Shelia Hill is part of the group Dallas Citizens for Fairness. He collected signatures on petitions to send to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calling on Holder to investigate the conduct of the Bush Administration Justice Department in this case. Pastor Washington and Juanita Wallace, Dallas NAACP President say Hill, a minority and a Democrat, was targeted by prosecutors.

Washington: Mr. Don Hill and Shelia Hill got a raw deal. If you don't remember your past, you're doomed to repeat it. J. Edgar Hoover did something quite like what happened to the Democrats under the Bush Administration. We've seen that it was far more Democrats that was investigated or indicted.
Wallace: I think it's political as well as racially motivated. I absolutely do. And I want everyone to support justice. I'm about justice. For whomever is in charge, we ought to be able to have justice.

Former US Attorney Richard Roper, who was in charge in 2005 when FBI agents raided city council offices and in 2007 when indictments were returned says justice will be delivered. And he disputes allegations of racial or political bias.

Roper: Any case that came out of my office when I was U.S. Attorney, indicted or charged, was based solely on the evidence and the law in the case, and nothing else. And I defy anybody to say anything different.

Don and Shelia Hill, former Dallas Plan Commissioner D'Angelo Lee, Brian and Cheryl Potashnik and two others go on trial today. State Representative Terri Hodge, also indicted, will be tried separately. Four defendants have pled guilty, and could testify for prosecutors. There are about 100 people in the witness list, including former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. There are more than 30 thousand wiretapped conversations, and hundreds of documents collected by prosecutors. The trial is expected to last months. Jury selection gets underway this morning. But before it does, the judge will hold an hearing on whether Don Hill violated the gag order issued last week. Hill gave interviews after that calling on the U.S. attorney to look into the conduct of the FBI and prosecutors.