Man Behind the Cameras Scheduled for Sentencing in DCS Scandal - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
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Man Behind the Cameras Scheduled for Sentencing in DCS Scandal

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    Man Behind the Cameras to Be Sentenced in DCS Scandal

    As he awaits his sentencing, just the mention of Robert Leonard, a central player in a scandal that rocked Dallas City Hall and killed a once-reputable school agency, continues to stir the anger from the people hurt by corruption. (Published Tuesday, May 14, 2019)

    As he awaits his sentencing, just the mention of Robert Leonard, a central player in a scandal that rocked Dallas City Hall and killed a once-reputable school agency, continues to stir the anger from the people hurt by corruption.

    "He raped it," said one former employee of Dallas County Schools.

    Others who lost their jobs with the demise of DCS had these choice words for Leonard: "He destroyed it"…"He took it down" …"He was the poison."

    The Louisiana businessman must hope such vitriol doesn't reach the ears of U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn, who is scheduled on Wednesday to sentence him to as much as 10 years in federal prison for his role in the DCS scandal.

    Several former DCS managers, in a group interview with NBC 5 Investigates, said they believe the punishment should be harsher for Leonard after he admitted paying millions of dollars in bribes to former DCS superintendent Rick Sorrells, and nearly a half-million dollars to Dwaine Caraway, Dallas' mayor pro tem at the time.

    Caraway is in prison, and Sorrells is destined for prison, after both pleaded guilty to taking those bribes as part of a conspiracy that brought tens of millions of dollars in school bus camera contracts to Leonard's company.

    It also cost taxpayers more than $100 million, spelled financial disaster for DCS, and ignited a voters revolt that elected to shut it down.

    "I really think 20 years …for all the heartache that he's caused the people of Dallas County Schools," said Mike Williams, a former DCS transportation director who had been with the agency for 17 years.

    "Life without parole and a reimbursement. He should be broke," added Tim Jones, a 20-year DCS veteran who had been director of special projects.

    They all agreed Leonard was responsible for the crisis that left them and hundreds of their co-workers without jobs.

    Also hurt – in their wallets – were taxpayers who, on election day, voted to shut down the DCS bus agency after more than a century of mostly scandal-free existence.

    "We all cried that day …and just looked at each other and couldn't believe what was happening," Williams said.

    The group's interview with NBC 5 Investigates was also punctuated with tears as they recalled watching DCS move from a relatively unknown, but steady, school bus service to an agency willing to take risks in pursuit of making money.

    They blamed Leonard for convincing their bosses to buy into an onboard surveillance camera program that was supposed to make money from the issuance of traffic tickets.

    Instead, it tanked DCS' finances.

    And they questioned his involvement in a DCS land deal where taxpayer-owned bus lots were sold, then leased back at taxpayer expense, in a failed attempt to bail out the agency.

    One of Leonard's closest associates collected more than $750,000 in that deal – an associate who later admitted he helped Leonard pay the bribes.

    In response to the group's comments, Leonard's attorney said in a statement, "…their opinions are inconsistent with the objective tangible evidence in this case."

    He did not elaborate.

    In his own statements to NBC 5 Investigates in the past two years, Leonard denied that he is to blame for financial troubles at DCS.

    Instead, he said it was DCS officials who mismanaged the bus camera program.

    In the past, Leonard's attorney has added to that opinion, saying his camera company was a success in many school districts throughout the country, and that he has been "profoundly instrumental in supporting and promoting the safety of our children for decades."

    The lawyer also wrote off Leonard's once lavish lifestyle – chauffeur-driven Bentleys, fancy homes throughout the country, a French Quarter retreat in New Orleans – as the rewards of simply being good in business.

    The group that sat down with NBC 5 Investigates had a different take.

    "He was a crooked and shady businessman," said Prentice Harper, who was area director when he lost his job at DCS, after 34 years.

    Williams agreed, adding: "He picked on the weak links that we had at Dallas County Schools, to get it established. And the cancer just grew from there…it never stopped."

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