Rick Sorrells, the disgraced former superintendent of Dallas County Schools, was sentenced to seven years in federal prison Wednesday morning for his role in the corruption scandal that destroyed the 172-year-old school bus agency in November 2017. Judge Barbara Lynn made blistering comments, calling Sorrells' conduct the worst in the entire scandal.
Sorrells, an admitted criminal, was convicted for wire fraud after admitting to the Department of Justice to taking more than $3 million in bribes. In exchange for the bribes, the DOJ said DCS purchased cameras worth millions of dollars, stacks of which remained boxed and unused in a Dallas warehouse, and entered into a $25 million asset purchase/licensing agreement, the sale-leaseback of DCS bus lots first reported on by NBC 5 Investigates.
NBC 5 was blogging live from the hearing -- those posts are below.
Sorrells arrived at the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse in downtown Dallas about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday and walked into the courthouse with his head down, surrounded by what appeared to be two guards.
He tearfully spoke during his sentence, saying he'd made a mistake, lost his way and begged the court for mercy and forgiveness. He said he was a yes man that found it hard to say no to Bob Leonard, the owner of the camera company, and that he soon realized he was in too deep to get out on his own. Sorrells added that he was relieved when the FBI showed up to raid his home because he knew that it was the beginning of the end.
Judge Barbara Lynn was firm with Sorrells during his sentencing, saying he was "the most culpable of defendants" in the DCS case, that his conduct was the worst and that she could not forgive him for what he'd done and for what he'd cost taxpayers and the former employees of Dallas County Schools.
Sorrells and his attorney asked the court to delay the start of his sentence by 30-45 days so that he could spend time with his wife, children and grandchildren, and tend to a health issue. Lynn delayed the start of his sentence until Sept. 17.
Before sentencing Sorrells, Lynn considered the sentences given to other DCS defendants including Dallas City Councilman Dwaine Caraway and Bob Leonard, who was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in May.
Lynn said she was upset the plea agreement capped his sentence at 10 years, especially considering that she'd sentenced people to 18 years behind bars for similar crimes.
In the end, Lynn is sending Sorrells to prison for seven years, same as Leonard, and has ordered him to pay $125 million in restitution. Knowing he'll never be able to satisfy that debt, Lynn waived the interest.
"This defendant pocketed a whopping $3.5 million in bribes, simultaneously crippling the agency he was tapped to lead and undermining the public’s trust in city officials. The citizens of Dallas deserve better – and they should rest assured that we are committed to rooting out public corruption wherever we find it," said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox.
The DOJ said Sorrells spent the bribe money on credit card debt, trips, personal expenses, an apartment in New Orleans, cars and jewelry.
Federal prosecutors said bribes and kickbacks paid to Sorrells were funneled through various pass-through companies operated by, Slater Swartwood Sr., and an unnamed law firm. Swartwood Sr. pleaded guilty to federal money laundering conspiracy charges in December 2018 and was sentenced last month to 18 months behind bars.
As a part of his plea, Sorrells was ordered to forfeit any property bought using the payments received from the unnamed company. A list of that property included more than $12,000 in cash, a 2014 Maserati GHI, a 2012 Porsche Cayenne, about $50,000 in jewelry purchased from the Windsor Auction House and a custom made 14K bracelet set with 51 princess cut diamonds weighing 10.53 carats and valued at more than $16,000.
Investigative Series: Behind the Cameras: The Fall of Dallas County Schools
Investigative Series: Big Buses, Bigger Problems: Investigating DCS