Former Dallas Councilman Don Hill will take the stand in his own defense at his bribery and extortion trial. That was one revelation from opening arguments presented in the trial Monday.
In its presentation to the jury, the government began showing jurors some of the thousands of hours of secret video and audio captured in the investigation dating back to 2004 and 2005.
Defendant Darren Reagan was the leader of the Black State Employees Association of Texas. Prosecutor Chad Meacham told the jury the organization was used to pressure developers to pay bribes even though it had no regular members.
Meacham said one of those developers was Bill Fisher who struck out on his own to build tax credit apartment complexes after working for another company.
Meacham said Fisher was pressured for payoffs to gain approval for his projects, so he approached the FBI and became an informant. Fisher wore a hidden microphone and camera to meetings with some of the defendants.
Some recordings were obtained with telephone wire taps, including one played for the jury between Reagan and BSEAT officer Allen McGill. The two spoke about money Fisher had paid them to drop BSEAT opposition to a project and allegedly gain Don Hill’s support.
“Ain’t nothing going to be traced,” Reagan said.
“Bear trap on him,” McGill replied about Fisher. “As bad as I’ve seen white folks trapped,” McGill said.
McGill has pleaded guilty to the indictment and is expected to testify for the government.
Fisher’s former employers, Brian and Cheryl Potashnik, were still listed as defendants on the day jury selection began a week ago. But Meacham told the jury that the Potashniks also will testify for the government.
“It’s huge,” said Dallas lawyer Clint David who listened to some of the opening arguments. “They were co-defendants a week ago, and now they’ve rolled over and they’re rolling over right on top of Don Hill.
Defense attorneys told the jury that Fisher had a bad reputation as Potashnik’s employee. They said that Fisher’s projects had trouble passing muster with the city because they were inferior to Potashnik’s, which easily won approval and had strong support from many city council members.
“When you see the facts, they will show that there’s no crime whatsoever,” said Victor Vital, Sheila Farrington Hill’s attorney.
The Hills lawyers told the jury that the government evidence does not add up to bribery.
“We’re going to put it in context so that they can realize that we believe the actions taken by Mr. And Mrs. Hill were all legal,” said Don Hill’s attorney Ray Jackson outside the courthouse Monday.
Hill defense attorneys have indicated they will provide daily briefings about the day’s proceedings, despite a gag order from the judge that severely limits the trial participants.
The trial is expected to last at least two months.