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The John Wiley Price Case: a Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Predictions

First things first, the recent arrest of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price is a big deal here in Dallas.   News of the FBI arresting Mr. Price on corruption charges came as a huge shock to many people in our neck of the woods. Some folk are still reeling from the news.

Dallas Cty Commissioner John Wiley Price


Why? This is a Big Fish Caught in the Federal Net

John Wiley Price is a well-known political activist here in North Texas.  He became Dallas County’s first African-American commissioner back in 1984. He’s served as a County Commissioner ever since.  Beloved by many, Price is popular to his constituents in District 3 as “Our Man Downtown.

Right now, some are wondering about the veracity of the federal charges and others are secure in Price’s guilt.  There are others who believe that John Wiley Price is the target of  a witch hunt based upon his political activism.

Lots of people are talking about the John Wiley Price case.

Price Faces Federal Corruption Charges

What’s it all about?  This is a federal case built upon an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and work by the Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana.

A federal grand jury issued an indictment last week for Mr. Price’s arrest on over a dozen federal criminal charges involving aspects of public corruption, e.g., conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, and income tax evasion.

The Federal Grand Jury Indictment of John Wiley Price was released on Friday: you read all 100+ pages here. Here’s what he’s facing (references to co-defendants have been omitted):

Count 1 Conspiracy To Commit Bribery Concerning A Local Government Receiving Federal Funds (18 USC 371)

Price allegedly got around $1,000,000 in property, cash, or new vehicles from assorted businesses for political influence.

Maximum penalty: 5 years and a $250,000 fine for this count

Count 2-7 Deprivation Of Honest Services By Mail Fraud, Aiding And Abetting

Price allegedly used the postal service and commercial carriers to move around his money.

Maximum penalty: 20 years and a $25,000 fine per count

Count 8 Conspiracy To Defraud The IRS

Price allegedly failed to report income on his income tax returns from revenue sources that included sales of fine art and real estate as well as a business in which he had an ownership interest.

Maximum penalty: 5 years and a $250,000 fine per count

Counts 9-11 Subscribing To A False And Fraudulent U.S. Individual Income Tax Return

Price allegedly falsely reported his income tax on his Federal Income Tax Returns in tax years 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Maximum penalty: 3 years and a $250,000 fine per count

Federal Case Against Dallas County Commissioner

The federal authorities have taken their time in the Price matter. The investigation reportedly took over two years and involved a mind-boggling amount of detail work.

One local trial-worn accounting expert asked to review the details provided in the indictment has given his opinion that the work done here to support the charges is “solid.” (Read the interview of forensic accountant Larry Kanter by Jack Fink of CBS -11 here).

Suffice to say, U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana expects to win her case.  John Wiley Price was not arrested until Saldana was pretty darn sure she had everything nailed down for a conviction.

Last Friday afternoon, Mr. Price appeared in court and pled “not guilty” to the charges.

Will John Wiley Price Be Convicted of Corruption?

In sum, John Wiley Price is facing federal prosecution on some serious federal allegations. If convicted, he will face serious felony jail time.

This does happen: just last week former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin filed his appeal of his federal conviction on similar corruption charges. Ex-mayor Nagin (you may remember his face from press coverage of Hurricane Katrina) was convicted after a full jury trial of charges that included conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, and filing false income tax returns.

The presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn, will do an excellent job here. Saldana will, too. Price, of course, has excellent legal representation. This courtroom battle will be hard-fought.

Bottom Line: Here’s What I Think Will Happen

First, let us consider John Wiley Price’s past track record. He’s savvy to the federal criminal system.

John Wiley Price has been indicted before. Back in May 1992, he was acquitted by a Texas state court jury of assaulting a police officer. John Wiley Price should not have been surprised that a federal indictment was in the works; the federal search warrant issued back in 2011 upon which the current charges resulted was made public several years ago. (You can read it online here.)

Price was well aware that he was being investigated on structuring and money laundering type issues.

Second, let’s consider if Price will negotiate a plea. I vote NO.

Given his track record, it is my thinking as a criminal defense lawyer that Price WILL NOT PLEAD GUILTY to anything.  No plea deals.

I predict that this case will go to trial. Price is going to argue his side of things before a jury.

Third, let’s consider what might happen in a Price criminal trial.

A trial of this case will be in the national spotlight, of course. This will bring “trial by media” pressure on all the participants, prosecution and defense.

The prosecution, given the type of evidence here, will have a big job of keeping this stuff interesting to the jury. It’s invoices, receipts, bank statements, phone records, and other detailed paperwork. Stuff that makes anyone yawn. Jurors are people; jurors get bored.

Saldana has to overcome this very real problem. Still, the jury is going to be very different in this case than a typical Dallas County jury.

The jurors in the Northern District, Dallas Division, will draw jurors from Dallas County AND surrounding counties like Ellis, Kaufman, Collin, Rockwall, Johnson, Navarro and Hunt counties.

These surrounding counties are known to be VERY conservative, and I predict that these jurors will lean very strongly in favor of the government.

Fourth, my prediction.

John Wiley Price will need more than his charisma to get to see the courthouse elevator after the jury’s verdict. The U.S. Attorney looks favored to win here, in my opinion.

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