New security measures helped Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price avoid questions Tuesday about new details of allegations of bribery, money laundering and bankruptcy fraud.
Tuesday’s regular Commissioners Court meeting was Price's first public appearance since a forfeiture filing was unsealed in federal court last week. The document detailed the reasons why the government wants to keep more than $460,000 that the FBI seized from Price.
The filing claims the money is ill-gotten gains from illegal activity, including payoffs for influence at the Commissioners Court.
Price was able to leave Tuesday's meeting before reporters could even speak to him because of a new rope barricade that blocks the area where commissioners normally take questions.
County Judge Clay Jenkins said the rope was posted so commissioners were not delayed for a closed-door executive session about Parkland Hospital after the public meeting.
"It's my job to focus on the business of Dallas County," he said. "We've got a budget to balance. We've got important work to do every day. That's what I was elected to do and what I'm committed to doing."
Jenkins denied that the rope was meant to impede the media. Jenkins took questions after the executive session but refused to talk about the Price investigation.
"Nothing impedes you from taking to John Wiley Price or anyone else but, in the middle of court, in the middle of our court session, I need to maintain order in this court room," he said.
Jenkins said the barrier could be used again in the future.
Spokeswoman Maria Arita said that other officials were told about it before the meeting.
"The roped area was agreed upon by all commissioners to keep decorum in the court," she said.
Commissioner Mike Cantrell said no one told him about it in advance and said he believes it is unnecessary.
"From my viewpoint, I believe that the press ought to have access to the court members," he said.
Sheriff Lupe Valdez said extra deputies were at the meeting because of rumors of a protest that did not happen, not to help Price avoid the media.
"I'm not personal security for any of the commissioners," she said.
Larry Kanter, a forensic accountant who has reviewed the federal court filing, said Price is wise to keep his mouth shut about the FBI probe, which is likely to result in criminal charges.
"Anything he says is a problem," he said. "He should not be commenting on this because it's a matter under investigation and it's complicated."
Kanter has successfully reconstructed old financial records for big civil cases and even Holocaust victims.
He said the bankruptcy fraud allegations could be easier for prosecutors to prove than other parts of the case.
The court filing claims Price established an account in his mother's name at a Forney Bank to conceal assets when he claimed to be broke in his 1996 bankruptcy.
"He made the representation, and if they can prove that when he made that representation he also knew about these other assets, that's significant," Kanter said.
Kanter said the detail of the government’s court filing shows Price could have many more questions to answer in the future.
"It tells us they've invested a great deal of time and resources into the investigation of this case," he said.
The investigation first became public in June 2011 when the FBI conducted raids at the homes and offices of Price and several associates.
Price has not been charged with any crime. In the past, he and his lawyers have always denied any wrongdoing.