Former Dallas City Councilwoman Carolyn Davis has pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge.
In court documents unsealed Friday, Davis admitted Jan. 25, 2019 she accepted about $40,000 in payments from real estate developer Ruel Hamilton in exchange for votes on a city-funded affordable housing project, Royal Crest, between November 2013 and June 2015.
NBC 5 was in the courtroom Friday when Davis waived her rights to a trial and pleaded guilty to taking bribes.
She stood solemn, looking much different from when she was on the council, as U.S. Magistrate Rebecca Rutherford agreed to release her on her own personal recognizance until formal sentencing — as long as she promised not to commit anymore crimes.
As part of her plea agreement, prosecutor Marcus Busch told the magistrate judge the government’s recommendation for Davis' punishment was no more than three years in federal prison, and a fine not to exceed $250,000. Davis has also agreed to pay restitution to the community and she'll cover the costs of her incarceration and supervision.
As she left the courtroom Davis declined to comment and referred all questions to her attorney, Scottie Allen, who also declined to comment.
A written statement was sent to NBC 5 Reporter Ken Kalthoff at 7:15 p.m. Friday stating: "For almost thirty (30) years now, former Dallas City Councilwoman, Carolyn Davis, has been a fierce advocate for her community and has mentored literally hundreds of youth. Although she's made significant contributions to the City of Dallas, todays' events illustrate she has also made some bad judgments for which she has accepted full responsibilty. At this juncture, there remain many moving pieces and unresolved issues to this case which ultimately will be decided by the Court. Until that time, Ms. Davis sincerely appreciates the continued prayers and words of encouragement she has received. - Scottie D. Allen, Attorney for Carolyn Davis.
Hamilton, meanwhile, the principal of AmeriSouth Realty Group, has been indicted two bribery charges. Hamilton has not yet been to trial or entered a plea; NBC 5 reached out to Hamilton for comment Friday morning and received two statements from his attorneys saying their client had been trapped and that he'd plead not guilty.
"Prosecutors make mistakes all the time. Today, they added to the list by staging a set-up to trap and then bring charges against my client Ruel Hamilton. People in this city know Ruel to be a pillar of the community, a fierce advocate for civil rights and fairness to working people and an honest man. When this case is heard and the truth is known, Mr. Hamilton will be exonerated and we will look forward to our day in court to defend him," Abbe David Lowell, attorney for Hamilton:
Hamilton's co-counsel, Jim Burnham, said the charge is a "misdirected trap" and a "mistaken view of Mr. Hamilton's long-running community activism" and that his client will plead not guilty.
"When all the facts and evidence come out, people will know that Ruel is the same honest, dedicated, civic minded and compassionate man he has been all of his adult life," Burnham said.
According to court documents obtained by NBC 5 Investigates Friday, Davis received bribes from Hamilton in exchange for official action, or the promise of favorable official action, related to the Royal Crest affordable housing project he had in development.
In addition to the $40,000 in cash, Davis also received the promise of future employment as a consultant.
To disguise the payments to Davis, prosecutors said Hamilton wrote checks to an unnamed person, or to a nonprofit owned by that person, between Nov. 18, 2013 and March 6, 2015, who then cashed the checks and transferred some or all of the payments to Davis.
According to prosecutors, Hamilton gave Davis the checks directly -- Davis then gave them to the unnamed person who cashed them and returned some or all of the money to Davis. Hamilton also paid Davis directly, in cash, in return for her official action.
The money she received, prosecutors said, was due to her position on the Dallas City Council and as Chair of the Housing Committee and was to secure her political influence.
For her part in the deal, Davis lobbied and voted for Hamilton's project, including the authorization of City of Dallas funds and obligations in excess of $2.5 million, all of which the co-conspirators concealed from the City Council, the Housing Committee and the citizens of Dallas.
On Feb. 2, 2015, during a meeting with the Housing Committee, Davis, as Chair of the Housing Committee, voted to support moving Hamilton's project forward including support from the city of Dallas funding $168,000 and a Dallas Housing Finance Corporation (DHFC) development loan of 2.52 million.
Davis knew the vote would benefit Hamilton and that he needed the vote for the project, prosecutors said.
On Feb. 25, 2015, Davis moved the City Council to authorize DHFC to loan the developer an amount not to exceed $2.52 million.
Davis, who served four terms on the Dallas City Council from 2007 to 2015, is the latest Dallas city leader to take a plea deal on bribery charges.
"Today the reckoning continues," Nealy Cox said, after saying her office has prioritized public corruption cases during her 15 months in office.
Last year, Nealy Cox announced charges against then Dallas Mayor Pro-Tem Dwaine Caraway who admitted to taking more than $400,000 in bribes. Caraway said he took the money in exchange for votes that connected Force Multiplier Solutions, a school bus camera company, to Dallas County Schools, a former school bus agency shut down last year by voters after a series of reports from NBC 5 Investigates highlighted gross financial mismanagement and corruption inside the agency. Caraway is expected to face sentencing in April.
Meanwhile, the man who ran Dallas County Schools, former superintendent Rick Sorrells, is expected to be sentenced in August. Sorrells has admitted to taking more than $3 million in bribes and kickbacks connected to the school bus camera program.
Hamilton's indictment indicated he paid a $7,000 bribe to a person listed as "Council Person A" -- who prosecutors said left office on Aug. 9, 2018. That's the same day Caraway stepped down due to his role in the DCS case.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said Friday he was "sick and tired" of "vultures who lurk around City Hall in search of corruptible public officials."
"There is no place in our government for those who cheat the good people of Dallas by offering bribes, just as there is no place for those who accept them," Rawings said. "I have asked City Manager T.C. Broadnax, who began his tenure in 2017, to initiate a review of housing projects that are connected to the charges announced today."
Rawlings added North Texans should be "grateful for the work of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District, as well as the Dallas FBI and IRS for continuing to root out public corruption. As FBI Special Agent Jackson said this morning, the public deserves better."
NBC 5's Jack Douglas Jr., Frank Heinz, Don Peritz and Ken Kalthoff contributed to this report.