Saturday, January 16, 2021

Louisiana attorney pleads guilty to fraud charges in Dallas school bus scandal

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An attorney from Louisiana pleaded guilty on Thursday to honest services wire fraud for participating in a years-long scandal beginning in 2011 that played a significant role in the closure of a taxpayer-funded school bus agency in Dallas.

Richard Reynolds of New Orleans made a judicial confession in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas for using his law firm to hide about $800,000 in payoffs to Ricky Sorrells, the head of the closed school bus agency, according to the plea agreement.

The agency was called Dallas County Schools, had a “board of trustees,” and listed Sorrells as its “superintendent,” even though it was not a school system, raising the question of whether the public may have been confused about the function of the organization.

Robert Leonard, CEO of security supplier Force Multiplier Solutions,  was bribing Sorrells and others to acquire contracts from Dallas County Schools for stop-arm camera equipment for the agency’s busses.

To make illegal payments, Leonard used Reynolds’ law firm along with a bogus consulting company called ELF Investments set up by one of Leonard’s co-conspirators, Slater Swartwood Sr.

Former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway also pleaded guilty in August 2018 to honest services wire fraud and tax evasion and was later sentenced to 4 years, 8 months in prison for his role in the criminal enterprise, according to a Justice Department press release.

In addition to accepting bribes to support Leonard’s stop-arm cameras, Caraway also supported one of Leonard’s real estate projects in southern Dallas, according to the U.S. attorney.

Leonard was sentenced to seven years in prison and required to provide $125 million in restitution.

Former State Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas) led an effort during the 85th Legislature to abolish the transportation service.

In November 2017, voters chose to shut down the school bus agency altogether by a vote of 58 percent to 42 percent.

Representatives of the agency said after the election that their mission was to serve students in the Dallas area.

“DCS staff are disheartened with the outcome, but extremely thankful for the support we received. DCS remains dedicated to serving the students, parents and district in and around Dallas County for as long as we have the opportunity to do so,” Dallas County Schools said in a statement to NBC DFW after the referendum.

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