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John Wiley Price Arrested, Pleads Not Guilty To Bribery Charges

BJ Austin
Longtime Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, shown in a file photo, was arrested Friday morning.

FBI agents arrested longtime Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price Friday morning following a years-long investigation. Federal officials charged him with taking nearly $1 million in bribes in exchange for political favors.

A 109-page indictment released Friday lists several charges, including bribery, mail fraud and tax fraud. Also named in the indictment: Kathy Nealy, a lobbyist and a consultant for Price; Christian Campbell, an account manager with one of Nealy’s business clients; and Dapheny Fain, a Dallas County employee who’s worked for Price since 1995.

Nealy provided Price money, cars and land totaling about $950,000, the indictment says. She tried to conceal these “bribe payments” by transferring money from her accounts to Price’s accounts. 

Price allegedly accepted the gifts to help Nealy’s and Campbell’s clients, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says.

The gifts, which averaged between $5,000 and $10,000 a month, weren't stated on Price’s tax returns or on financial disclosure statements, federal officials say.

Price also earned money from other businesses that he kept secret, including a business operated by Fain, his chief of staff, federal officials allege. Price took in more than $1.1 million that he didn’t report, and filed false income tax returns from 2007 through 2009.

Price denied any wrongdoing, and he pleaded not guilty Friday afternoon. As Price left the courthouse, he was swarmed by reporters and cameras and repeatedly said he was “not guilty.” 

Sarah Saldaña, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Texas, called the allegations "a shocking betrayal of public trust."

“The indictment unsealed today alleges that 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," Saldaña said.

Officials say the investigation spans a decade. In June 2011, the FBI raided his home. Earlier this summer, Price's attorney said that indictments were looming.

Update, 4:51 p.m. Read these old profiles of Price

If you're looking for more about Price's background, here are two lengthy stories. D Magazine wrote about Priceback in 1991. The Dallas Morning News profiled Price in 2011.

Update, 3:17 p.m.: Look back at Price's 1991 trial

In 1991, Price was found guilty of a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to 75 days in jail for breaking the windshield wipers off a woman’s car during a protest. "It's a racist system," Price said in 1991. Here is news coverage from KERA-TV following his weeklong trial and sentencing more than 20 years ago:

Update, 2:09 p.m.: Price pleads not guilty

Price pleaded not guilty Friday afternoon. As Price left the courthouse, he was swarmed by reporters and cameras and repeatedly said he was “not guilty.”

Update, 1:58 p.m.: On Dallas gospel radio, listeners sound off on Price

The Price indictment is the topic of the day on KHVN (970 AM), a gospel radio station that is popular among black Christians in North Texas. Callers flooded the airwaves to talk with host Robert Ashley. They debated about race and whether it played a role in the Price indictment.

One caller said: “We pray for him … only Mr. Price knows what’s what. If there’s anything there … [Price should] own up to it. It will be a whole lot less on you rather than fighting the courts. … The love of money is driving lot of people and that’s why a lot of people are getting caught up.”

Another caller said: “When somebody offers you a plea bargain, what you’re doing is you’re admitting you’re guilty. … With him turning down he knows they don’t have enough evidence.”

Another caller said: “We’re in an hour and a season to where blacks have been put on display and the best thing we could do is just keep our mouths quiet and use our mouths to say good things about one another and not be so quick to judge.”

Update, 1:43 p.m.: Price is 'a man of faith,' pastor says

Price has been attending Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas for several years. KERA's Eric Aasen spoke with Frederick Haynes, senior pastor at the church,who reflected on what Price means to Dallas County.“I’m convinced that Dallas is different and better because of the service he has rendered and continues to render,” Haynes said. “When he became county commissioner … in terms of what Dallas County leadership looked like … it did not reflect the demographic of Dallas County.” Read more here about Price's faith.

Update, 12:23 p.m.: Dallas County judge reacts

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins released a statement: "This morning, I prayed for all involved with the federal investigation into 2001-2011 events, but remain focused on completing the important work of strengthening law enforcement, improving services without tax increases,  completing the successful turnaround of Parkland Hospital and promoting the $10.25 living wage; those issues, not an outside investigation will be the focus of Commissioners Court and staff."

Update, 11:50 a.m. Friday: Government officials outline the case

Sarah Saldaña, the U.S. attorney for the northern district of Texas, outlined the charges Friday morning.

“The message that we intend to send with any case … when it comes to public corruption, we are out there,” Saldaña told reporters. “When we have allegations that come forward and we have evidence that’s presented to us, we go after the evidence where it takes us. And today it takes us to these four defendants.”

Diego Rodriguez, the special agent in charge of FBI’s Dallas division, said that allegations of corruption erode public confidence.

“A small number of public servants … are concerned with specific agendas to line their own pockets or those of friends, family or business partners,” he said. “Mr. Price, Mr. Campbell, Ms. Fein and Ms. Nealy allegedly defrauded the residents of Dallas County, the state of Texas and the federal government. They unlawfully enriched themselves at the expense of Dallas County citizens. These types of actions can diminish the public trust and cost residents money and resources.”

The indictment: Count by count

There are several counts in the indictment. Here’s a sampling.

Count 1: Conspiracy to commit bribery concerning a local government receiving federal benefits

--Price solicited and demanded financial benefits from Nealy and Campbell

--Nealy and Campbell gave financial benefits to Price “with the intent to influence and reward Price”

--Price, Nealy and Campbell “unjustly enrich[ed] themselves as well as to furnish funds to Nealy to continue funneling things of value” to benefit Price.

--Businesses seeking contracts with Dallas County would hire Nealy, and through her, would obtain inside information about competitors’ bids, which they used to pursue county contracts. “These businesses often continued to pay Nealy for the duration of the businesses’ dealings in Dallas County, so that, in exchange, Price would continue to take beneficial actions on their behalf.” Price provided private internal county memos, emails and discussions regarding contracts.

--Campbell contracted as a consultant with several of the same companies as Nealy.

--Nealy provided Price money, cars and land totaling more than $900,000. Nealy paid Price about $450,000 in checks, cash and bank account transfers. Nealy provided Price the use of a new Chevrolet Avalanche every four years and a BMW convertible. Nealy made the monthly car and insurance payments – that totaled about $190,000.

--Nealy funneled nearly $200,000 to Price through four purchases of property – three adjacent lots on South Lancaster Road in Dallas and a piece in Van Zandt County. Nealy paid for the property, monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance and repairs.

--Nealy gave Price rent payments of about $114,000. 

Counts 2 through 7: Deprivation of honest services by mail fraud and aiding and abetting

--Price and Nealy “aided and abetted by each other and by others,” engaged in mail fraud.

--The purpose was for Price to “secretly use his official position to enrich himself by soliciting and accepting payments and other things of value from Nealy in the form of a stream of financial benefits, as consideration for Price’s action or inaction and influence with respect to contracts and other matters before the Dallas County Commissioners Court."

--Price and Nealy took steps to “hide, conceal, and cover up this activity and the nature and scope of their dealings with one another,” including sending checks through the mail.

Count 8: Conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service

--Price unlawfully concealed and disguised about $1.15 million in bribes and other income from Fain, a company she operated called Male Man Sales, Nealy and others.

--Price received nearly $134,000 from Male Man Sales but reported none of it on his tax returns.

--Price and Fain concealed the income by endorsing and diverting third-party checks.

--Nealy and Fain helped Price hide income, assets and expenditures from the IRS by having property titled in Nealy’s and Fain’s names.

--Price didn’t report on his tax returns any amounts that Nealy paid for the properties, property taxes and insurance for the properties.

--Price earned at least $50,000 from selling African art from his residence – and reported none of it on his tax returns.

--Price, Nealy and Fain opened several bank accounts at the same banks to “facilitate the covert transfers of money.” Price had at least 11 bank accounts.

--Price, Nealy and Fain presented false records to the same tax preparer and records omitted payments to Price or mischaracterized payments as loans or reimbursement.

Counts 9 through 11: Subscribing to a false and fraudulent U.S. individual income tax return

--Price falsely reported income in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Count 12: Attempt to evade or defeat payment of tax

--Nealy concealed and attempted to conceal her assets and income by conducting transactions at about 10 different banks; created inaccurate business records; filed false or fraudulent returns; signed a false and misleading real estate document in order to avoid federal tax liens.

Count 13: False statement

--Fain made false statements to the FBI regarding Price’s role with Male Man Sales .

Friday morning's arrest

WFAA-TV reports:

Price was arrested at an office building north of downtown Dallas around 8 a.m.; it's unclear what he was doing there. Three other defendants are expected to be in custody later this morning, sources said. Price and the others are expected to make initial appearances before a federal magistrate judge later this afternoon. Then they are expected to be released pending trial, which may not occur for a year or more.

Price’s lawyer, Billy Ravkind, told The Dallas Morning News a few weeks ago that indictments were likely to come soon. He says possible tax evasion charges against Price concern him. Price isn’t interested in a plea deal, Ravkind told the newspaper. Ravkind denies any corruption. “News of the planned meeting comes exactly three years after federal agents searched Price’s home and office,” The Newsreported. “The search warrant cited a number of possible violations, including theft and bribery involving federally funded programs, tax evasion, fraud and money laundering.” 

A Price primer: What led up to the indictments?

KERA’s Bill Zeeble has this background on the events that led up to Price’s indictment:

On June 27, 2011, the FBI launched a surprise raid on Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price’s home, vehicles, and county offices. The bureau seized boxes of documents and cash. The warrant also sought valuables like wrist watches.

“I had been to a meeting,” Price said that year. “I came in, there were individuals both on the bottom floor and the second floor. They had search warrants, and so I accommodated.”

In the office of his attorney Billy Ravkind, Price said he had no idea what the raid was about. The warrant listed no allegations.

“This is not the first time I’ve been up against adversity,” Price said. “I look forward to that day in court.

The FBI also searched homes and offices of Price’s longtime county assistant Dapheny Fain and political consultant Kathy Nealy.

In May 2012, a lengthy affidavit cited a laundry list of crimes Price may have committed, including theft, bribery, and influence-peddling.

The affidavit suggested Price took money for votes and laundered cash through businesses Fain and Nealy owned. In one instance, the FBI presented a timeline of financial transactions showing that peddling.

The affidavit suggested Price took money for votes and laundered cash through businesses Fain and Nealy owned. In once instance, the FBI presented a timeline of financial transactions showing that Nealy received a $25,000 payment from her client, then-mayoral candidate Mike Rawlings. A day later, Nealy wrote a $5,000 check to herself from that account and put it into Price’s account. A day later, Price endorsed Rawlings.

Other documents suggest Fain and Nealy illegally helped Price secure expensive cars and property, and also commit bankruptcy fraud. Price and Fain say they’re innocent. Nealy’s attorney said her client had no comment.

And no matter how much the FBI evidence suggests Price lied, to his many supporters in southern Dallas, the commissioner has done nothing wrong.

“He’s honest. He speaks what he thinks,” Betty Frank told KERA a few years ago. “That federal investigation, I think, is a bunch of malarkey. But then again I might be wrong, I don't know. … Everybody knows John Wiley. And in this community, he has a done a lot of work. And so, you know, we’re proud of him.”

Although Price’s lawyer, Billy Ravkind, says Price hasn’t done anything wrong, Ravkind has been expecting a trial since the raid in June of 2011. 

Here's the indictment:

John Wiley Price Indictment

KERA's Bill Zeeble, Shelley Kofler and Lyndsay Knecht contributed to this report, as did The Associated Press.

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.