Fast cars, fast money, and expensive art provide the backdrop for a seedy tale of corruption in Dallas.
The story begins with a slick Louisiana businessman who paid off public officials to get lucrative contracts so he could live a lavish lifestyle.
And everything was funded by taxpayer dollars.
This week, KXAS-TV took a closer look at a bribery conspiracy that led Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, a Democrat, to resign after he pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. New Orleans businessman Robert C. Leonard Jr. also pleaded guilty.
How were they living?
Leonard was living large, with a luxurious home, a shiny black Bentley in the driveway, more than $700,000 in bank accounts, and boxes of expensive jewelry. He is now forfeiting his riches to the government because “he paid for it with your money,” KXAS reported.
Leonard peddled his company’s school bus cameras in exchange for bribes, and many of the cameras are “sitting unused in a warehouse,” the report said.
His dog got in on the act, too.
Leonard used his dog’s name to make a $200 donation to Caraway’s campaign, according to KXAS. His dog, “Jack Leonard,” had a business card for Force Multiplier Solutions that listed him as chief executive officer of the dog division.
Caraway admitted to taking $450,000 to buy fancy suits, gambling trips, a campaign bus, and other items.
It started when Leonard came to town and touted his surveillance cameras as a way to keep students safer.
That led him to Rick Sorrells, then-superintendent of Dallas County Schools, a now-defunct school bus agency in North Texas. The corruption scandal and financial mismanagement led to the agency's closure in November. Prior to its closure, Dallas County Schools provided services for school districts and government entities in Dallas County and throughout Texas.
Sorrells admitted he received more than $3 million in bribe and kickback payments. In exchange, he entered into $70 million in contracts for cameras for DCS school buses.
Caraway’s position on the City Council helped garner the votes that made the scheme possible.
Local expert weighs in
Leonard was a “businessman with a product to sell, who found a market that was effectively unregulated,” Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, told KXAS.
Jillson said Caraway and Sorrells, who has also taken a plea agreement, operated as “free agents” and were ready when someone like Leonard to come to town, KXAS reported.
“I think Mr. Leonard...and Mr. Swartwood, who was his agent in all of this, didn’t have to be smooth, they didn’t have to be smart talkers, because they had cash in their pockets,” Jillson told KXAS.
“It was that cash that was irresistible to a surprising number of Dallas political officials,” he said.
KXAS called the operation one of the biggest corruption scams in Dallas history.
Jillson suggested that the use of the word “others” in government documents suggests more people may have been caught in the FBI’s dragnet.
“I think we’re tying up loose ends,” Jillson told the outlet. “There may be a couple of people who don’t yet know the hook is in them.”
KXAS ran a series of more than 100 reports about the corruption, which led to the federal investigation, the news outlet reported.
Leonard’s business associate, Slater Washburn Swartwood Sr., of Louisiana, handled most of the finances.
Swartwood pleaded guilty in February 2018 and Sorrells in April 2018. Both are currently out on bond.