|Dallas Digital Forensics Attorney Matthew Yarbrough quoted in Dallas Morning News article |
Analysis: FBIís decision to chase John Wiley Priceís cash may mean itís time for co-defendants to strike deal
|June 16, 2012 11:11 pm|
The Dallas Morning News:
The FBI's decision to go after Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price's cash before filing criminal charges ó and to reveal some of the evidence amassed by agents ó could be its signal to potential co-defendants that it's time to deal.
The level of detail about financial transactions in a 62-page affidavit, legal experts say, may be part of a government strategy to scare one or more of Price's associates into testifying against him. Several former federal prosecutors say that what's been revealed thus far in a civil forfeiture action means that the government almost certainly has extensive wiretap evidence against Price, as well as key cooperating witnesses.
The forfeiture also may be intended to hamstring the embattled county commissioner financially so he can't afford to keep his high-priced defense team, or just to keep the money from disappearing.
But prosecutors may face major obstacles to get a conviction.
Many allegations are based on events from more than a decade ago. Memories fade over time. Proving the intent behind a financial transaction, and connecting the dots in an alleged criminal conspiracy, becomes more problematic. If the allegations against Price are true, winning a conviction would be difficult without wiretaps and testimony from an insider.
Although the FBI in a civil filing has accused Price of using his position to make and hide illicit profits, no one has been charged with any crimes in the case.
Matthew Yarbrough, a former U.S. attorney who now has his own firm in Dallas, said he has worked with Sherman and knows the veteran agent has done his homework.
"That affidavit is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "That's not even the best stuff."
Yarbrough said he believes the FBI wouldn't target Price if it didn't have wiretap evidence and insider witnesses, as it did in similar corruption cases against former Dallas city councilmen Al Lipscomb and Don Hill.
Yarbrough said key witnesses help the jury understand intricate bribery and money-laundering crimes better than pages of detailed and complex financial transactions.
"Documents don't get up on the stand," he said.
Statute of limitations
The bankruptcy fraud charge referred to in the Price civil forfeiture action may be the easiest to prove, Yarbrough said, because Price made certain claims to the bankruptcy court about his total assets.
But because the statute of limitations for bankruptcy fraud expires five years after a bankruptcy case is closed, it may be out of prosecutors' reach in the Price criminal case. In that case, time would have run out in 2006 unless certain provisions of the law would extend it, such as a rule that starts the clock only after the discovery of such alleged fraud, experts say.
Yarbrough said prosecutors can introduce such evidence to show a pattern, even though it's not charged in the indictment. "It goes to the veracity of the defendant," he said.
Price also could probably face tax evasion charges. Even if the government's public corruption case falls apart, a conviction on a tax charge would be enough to keep Price out of office and even land him some prison time, experts say.
Yarbrough and others said it's not illegal for businesses to buy influence with politicians; it's called lobbying. The companies named in Sherman's affidavit could argue that they didn't know money they paid to Nealy would end up in Price's bank accounts, he said.
That's why either wiretaps or testimony from someone like Nealy will be key, Yarbrough said. Big public corruption cases rarely do not involve an insider, he said. More than one is even better, he said.
"Juries love corroboration," Yarbrough said. "The more corroboration, the more you tend to believe them."
Who gets prosecuted and who doesn't also may be a factor. Price is the most recent in a series of high-profile black politicians to be targeted by federal investigations, and all of the individuals identified as co-conspirators in the recent affidavit are black.
Much of the money that federal authorities allege was illegally used by Price came from checks written by executives with large corporations.
© Copyright 2012 The Dallas Morning News Inc.
Send this page to a friend