The headline grabber last week was Dwaine Caraway, a political powerhouse as Dallas’ Mayor Pro Tem, who resigned after pleading guilty to federal charges in a bribery conspiracy.
While the man behind that conspiracy, Robert Carl Leonard Jr, took backstage in his federal plea agreement – a newcomer to Dallas who proved to be a wrecking ball for Caraway, Dallas County Schools and the taxpayers who paid for all those darn, DCS cameras.
Leonard, who was the owner of the company that sold the cameras to DCS, was a “businessman with a product to sell, who found a market that was effectively unregulated,” said Cal Jillson, political science professor at SMU, and an expert on all things political in Dallas.
Jillson said Caraway and Rick Sorrells, DCS’ superintendent who has also taken a plea agreement, were working as “free agents,” just waiting for someone like Leonard to come to town.
Leonard, of New Orleans, wanted to tap into Texas taxpayer coffers by selling his surveillance cameras to DCS, claiming they would keep kids safer on school buses.
Sorrells, as DCS superintendent, was in the right place to push through the multimillion-dollar camera contracts, while Caraway’s seat on the City Council helped lead votes that made the plot plausible.
For Caraway, Leonard, Sorrells and the “others,” as referenced in government documents, the scheme worked …for a while.
And before it was over, the conspiracy burned through $125 million – taxpayer dollars – and provoked voters to shut down DCS.
Leonard amassed a fortune, buying a Bentley GT, expensive paintings and fine jewelry. At the time of his confession, he had more than $700,000 in bank accounts, government records show.
Now he has to give all of it up, the government says, because they are the ill-gotten gains of a criminal conspiracy.
Sorrells, in his agreement with the government, has to turn over the keys to a Porsche and a Maserati as part of his admitting to taking $3 million in bribes.
Much of the money went through Slater Swartwood Sr., a Leonard associate who has also pleaded guilty in the conspiracy.
Caraway, who was a heartbeat from the Dallas mayor’s seat, has admitted to taking $450,000 in bribes, paying for fancy suits, a campaign bus and, among other perks, gambling trips.
“I think Mr. Leonard …and Mr. Swartwood, who was his agent in all of this, didn’t have to be smooth, they didn’t have to be smart talkers, because they had cash in their pockets,” Jillson said.
“It was that cash that was irresistible to a surprising number of Dallas political officials,” he said.
Caraway and company have all agreed to cooperate with the federal government, as a bargaining chip in hopes for leniency in their upcoming prison terms.
Their participation leaves the question on whether “others,” as mentioned in government documents, may be caught in the FBI’s dragnet.
“I think we’re tying up loose ends,” Jillson suggested.
But he added: “There may be a couple of people who don’t yet know the hook is in them.”