Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway worked with a man, who is now facing federal prison time, in attempts to purchase property for a school bus agency that is now the focus of an ongoing federal corruption investigation, according to records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates.
Those records include emails that contradict what Caraway said in an interview in January, when he denied knowing of any business deals between Slater Swartwood Sr. and the beleaguered Dallas County Schools agency, which voters have elected to shut down.
In that interview, Caraway also said he knew of no business ties between Swartwood and Robert Leonard, who ran a security camera company doing business with DCS – transactions that triggered the financial collapse of the school bus agency and cost local taxpayers millions of dollars.
In December, Swartwood pleaded guilty to a federal charge of money laundering, admitting he funneled bribes and kickbacks to a top DCS official at a time when the DCS was purchasing millions of dollars in surveillance cameras for its buses.
Leonard has denied any wrongdoing, and has not been charged with a crime. But he remains the focus of an ongoing investigation into the failed camera deals with DCS, with the FBI executing search warrants at his home and at his business, Force Multiplier Solutions.
Both Leonard, through his lawyer, and Caraway have told NBC 5 Investigates they know one another, but that their relationship had nothing to do with DCS or Force Multiplier.
Financial disclosure reports obtained by NBC 5 Investigates and The Dallas Morning News show that Caraway, while on the Dallas City Council, worked as a “consultant” for one of Swartwood’s companies, Elf Investments.
That company, according to federal court documents in Swartwood’s plea agreement, is one of several “pass-through” companies Swartwood “controlled” to launder about $2 million in bribes to a top DCS official.
Financial disclosure reports filed by Caraway in 2013 and 2014 show he was paid at least $50,000 to help Swartwood buy real estate in south Dallas.
In his last interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Caraway acknowledged working for Swartwood’s company, and added that the company, separately, loaned his family $20,000.
He also said he knew Leonard, and knew he was acquainted with Swartwood, but did not know that Swartwood worked for Leonard as a real estate consultant.
“Well, everybody knows everybody ... in the sense of the word,” Caraway said at the time. “But to delve into, OK, they have an additional relationship over here. I’m not the one to know that,” he said.
Caraway insisted he was paid to work only for Swartwood – not Leonard – and had no involvement with DCS or with Force Multiplier Solutions.
“… I don’t have anything to do with that entity as it relates to DCS,” he said in January.
But a 2013 email obtained by NBC 5 Investigates suggests Caraway worked with Swartwood in their attempts to broker a deal to buy city-owned properties in south Dallas for DCS and Leonard’s camera company.
The email was from Bonnie Meeder, who at the time was the assistant director of Dallas’ real estate division, to then-DCS superintendent Rick Sorrells, in reference to a vacant lot on Oak Lane, on the city’s near-south side.
NBC 5 Investigates has learned DCS wanted the 8.5-acre lot near Fair Park for a new school bus maintenance facility, where Leonard’s company planned to lease 100,000 square feet of office space.
Meeder said in the email, “I met today with Bob and Slater, Interim Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell and City Councilmember Dwaine Caraway, and we discussed this site, along with others.”
Meeder, who has since retired, told NBC 5 Investigates she only remembers that the city ultimately decided not to sell to DCS because it had different plans for the property, which remains vacant.
That rejection didn’t seem to sit well with Leonard, according to an email he forwarded to Caraway in 2014.
At the top, he typed, “??????,” appearing to question Caraway on why the city turned down DCS’ efforts to buy the property.
And it included a copy of an email from Swartwood, who was expressing his frustration that the city would not accept DCS’ offer, saying: “…in the 40 plus years in the real estate business, I have never been so frustrated or dealt with this kind of behavior.”
NBC 5 Investigates was not provided with anything that indicates whether Caraway responded to Leonard’s email, or even saw it. He also did not respond when NBC 5 sent a copy of the email to his city-issued email address.
Caraway declined multiple requests for comment – a considerable contrast from January, when he talked to NBC 5 Investigates about his dealings with Swartwood, saying he would never “run” from questions.
“I’m a welcoming voice,” he said at the time, adding, “The only thing you can do is tell the truth. Tell the truth (and) you have no fear.”
But later, when NBC 5 Investigates caught up with Caraway at City Hall, he walked away, wagging his finger and declaring: “My mother told me not to talk to you anymore.”