Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Ex-Dallas County Superintendent Receives 7-Year Prison Sentence in Bribery Case

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The former superintendent for the now-shuttered Dallas County Schools (DCS) was ordered to serve a seven-year prison sentence in a “sordid” multi-million-dollar public corruption scandal involving school bus video contracts, reported The Dallas Morning News.

Dallasnews.com reported on that millions of dollars in bribes fueled former DCS superintendent Rick Sorrells’ luxurious lifestyle that included high-end “cars, expensive jewelry and lavish trips,” according to prosecutors. Several others involved in the case have already received prison sentences.

Sorrells, who appeared on the September 2016 cover of School Transportation News for an article on the government agency’s adoption of onboard tablets for managing school bus routes, admitted to receiving bribes and kickbacks. He must report to prison by Sept. 17.

Earlier, Sorrells pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and was the first person to cooperate with the FBI in the case. He was accused of taking $3.5 million in bribes from Robert Leonard to award $70 million in contracts for school bus video cameras to the now-defunct Force Multiplier Solutions. Leonard was the company’s CEO at the time.

Prosecutors said that Sorrells accepted payments via bogus companies that he helped create, reported Dallasnews.com. “The money was used to pay off Sorrells’ credit card and student loan debts, among other personal expenses, prosecutors said. He also spent it on a 2014 Maserati, a 2012 Porsche and at least $66,000 in jewelry, court records show.” It was estimated that the schemed lasted over seven years.

Dallasnews.com said that U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn told Sorrells “he was living high on the hog, while his employees struggled and never recovered. Lynn said he won’t live long enough to repay the $125 million restitution she ordered in his case. Sorrells pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and was the first to cooperate in the case. He made recordings for the FBI. As a result, his cap was reduced from 20 years to 10, according to prosecutors.”

Due to the scandal, voters approved dissolving the governmental agency that provided educational support services, such as transportation, to the area’s school districts. Nine school districts, including Dallas Independent Schools, were forced to either bring transportation in-house or contract out the service.

The scandal included a $25 million real estate deal for new school bus facilities and the purchase of camera systems that were never installed. The scheme also involved DCS trying to resell the video camera systems to other school districts.

Force Multiplier also reportedly created fake agreements, invoices and loan documents tied to Sorrells, who NBC 5 said made payments on the items, only to have the funds return to him. The report also said Sorrells used some of the money to purchase a luxury apartment building in New Orleans—next door to one owned by Force Multiplier—which has since gone out of business, as well as sports cars and jewelry.

Meanwhile, Dallas County taxpayers must continue to pay off millions in debt that has been accumulated by DCS.

RelatedFormer Dallas City Councilwoman Carolyn Davis Pleads Guilty to Federal Bribery Charge

Sorrells retired from DCS in March 2017 with an annual salary of $206,000.

Meanwhile, the promised revenue to DCS of collecting fees from motorists who were ticketed for driving past school bus stops never materialized. Then, on the verge of bankruptcy and amid an investigation by NBC-5 in Dallas, Texas voters approved a measure in the fall of 2017 to permanently close the 171-year old agency.

Leonard was sentenced this past May to seven years in federal prison. Also, Dwaine Caraway, a former Dallas mayor pro tem, was sentenced to 56 months for accepting $450,000 in bribes and kickbacks between 2011 and 2017. In addition, Slater Smartwood, a business associate of Leonard, agreed to a plea deal last month for money laundering and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

According to news reports, Leonard also allegedly bribed Caraway to assist him on the Dallas City Council. The businessman and his associates distributed tens of thousands of dollars in supposed campaign contributions to other local politicians.

But this may not be the end of the case, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew said on Wednesday that there was “at least one matter ongoing.”

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