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Top Dallas Democrat pleads guilty to federal corruption charges

City of Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway (above) and Robert C. Leonard Jr., of New Orleans, have pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in connection with an elaborate bribe and kickback scheme. Under his agreement, Caraway faces seven years in federal prison. (Photo by Peter Larsen/Getty Images for MegaFest 2017)

In connection with an elaborate scheme of bribes and kickbacks, Dallas City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway (D), of Dallas and Robert C. Leonard Jr. of New Orleans, have pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office explained what happened:

“According to the Plea Agreements and Factual Resumes filed in the cases, Leonard paid and Caraway accepted more than $450,000 in bribe and kickback payments in the form of a phony consulting agreement, luxury suits, fully-funded trips, gambling money, repayment of personal debt, checks and cash. Leonard also admitted to paying Rick Sorrells, former Dallas County Schools Superintendent, over $3 million in bribes and kickbacks payments in various forms, including $200,000 toward Sorrells’ credit card and student loan debt through a bank account opened in the name of a nonexistent entity.”

Further, "Both Defendants admitted to efforts undertaken to disguise and conceal the nature of the bribe and kickback payments. Leonard funneled a significant portion of the illicit payments through various pass-through companies created and operated by his business associate, Slater Washburn Swartwood, Sr., of Louisiana. Specifically, Swartwood, acting at Leonard’s direction, funneled and masked payments to Caraway and Sorrells as 'consulting fees' or 'loans' through his shell company, ELF Investments. The co-conspirators originally characterized the payments to Sorrells as 'consulting,' but later attempted to recast the payments as a loan. Sorrells provided no legitimate consulting services in exchange for the payments. There were payments made to Caraway in the form of checks that were cashed at pawnshops and liquor stores."

Caraway pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of tax evasion. Caraway admitted that from 2012 to 2014, he evaded paying $68,906 in taxes. Leonard pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.

What is the background?

Amid what was described as “corruption and staggering financial mismanagement that cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” Dallas County Schools was shuttered on Nov. 15, 2017.

Dallas County Schools was an educational agency that provided services to school districts and government entities in Dallas County and throughout the state of Texas. One of its functions was overseeing all transportation issues for nine school districts in North Texas.

KXAS-TV ran a series of more than 100 reports about the corruption. The reports revealed how taxpayer dollars intended for student safety were instead used to line the pockets of a public official. The scheme also “cost hundreds of people their jobs.”

“In return for the bribe and kickback payments, Caraway promised favorable official actions to further Leonard’s business interests in Dallas,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office statement. “These actions included key votes to promote and continue the school bus stop-arm camera program — which contracted with Leonard’s company, Force Multiplier Solutions — and other actions taken to benefit Force Multiplier Solutions.”

Following Caraway’s resignation, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings stated: “As we all now know, the corruption at Dallas County Schools extended beyond the confines of that now shuttered organization. As your mayor, I am saddened by what we learned today about the actions of one of my former colleagues. I am sad for the city, especially the citizens of District 4, and for Mr. Caraway’s friends, family and supporters.”

Rawlings added: “I appreciate that he [Caraway] is admitting his crimes and sparing the city what could have been a drawn out legal battle. This city is so much bigger than any one politician who lost his way.”

What did Caraway say?

Caraway, 66, reportedly issued a statement to City Secretary Bilirae Johnson that read: "Over the past several weeks, through a lot of prayer and soul searching, I have decided that I must take responsibility for my actions. I have dedicated much of my life to serving others, but have never claimed to be without sin. I am truly sorry that I must end my career as an elected official because I betrayed the public's trust that I worked so very hard to earn."

Under his agreement, Caraway faces seven years in federal prison.

The other co-conspirators, Swartwood and Sorrells, pleaded guilty earlier this year. Swartwood pleaded guilty in February 2018 and Sorrells in April 2018. Both are currently out on bond.

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