An Austin businesswoman was convicted by a federal court jury Friday of lying to federal agents investigating the John Wiley Price corruption case.
Helena Tantillo, 59, was a managing director with the firm BearingPoint. Prosecutors said she made payments in 2004 to a consultant that wound up as bribes to Dallas County Commissioner Price for a 2005 contract to digitize county records.
She was indicted in 2015 after prosecutors said she tried to mislead investigators during three interviews in 2013 and 2014.
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Jury foreman Gerimy Lambert said the panel was split when deliberation began Thursday afternoon.
“There were a lot of people who had reasonable doubt in the beginning, but as we started breaking it down, looking at the facts, it became clear to us, or we wouldn’t have come to that decision,” Lambert said.
The jury convicted her of two counts for lying about the use of the money and about phone calls she claimed to have made with a former boss.
A key witness in the trial was consultant Christian Campbell who pleaded guilty to making the payments from Tantillo to Price through Price's political consultant Kathy Nealy.
Campbell told the jury Tantillo planned the payments with him and knew the purpose. Campbell is expected to be a witness against Price and Nealy at their trial scheduled for September. Price and Nealy have pleaded not guilty.
Campbell was attacked in the Austin trial as the liar by Tantillo’s defense attorney and Lambert said the jury was not convinced by Campbell’s word alone.
“We didn’t weigh Christian Campbell’s testimony very much at all, maybe to your surprise, but we just felt that there was some conflict there,” Lambert said. “But we felt that there was plenty of other things we could use to come up with the decision that we had.”
During the four day Austin trial, Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell disputed Tantillo’s claim to investigators that the money paid to Campbell was to have been a charity contribution to impress Cantrell.
Tantillo’s former boss, Gary Miglicco, told the jury phone calls she claimed to have had with him about the Cantrell contribution never happened.
Jurors also heard from other witnesses and saw many documents recovered by investigators to support Campbell’s accusation.
Tantillo was the only witness called by her defense lawyers. On the stand, she insisted that she intended to tell the truth, but admitted some mistakes made under pressure from investigators.
“We felt it was all in the timelines of the interviews with the FBI and there was a lot of inconsistencies there that didn’t make sense to us, and it was clear cut without him,” Lambert said.
Tantillo could receive five years in prison for each of the two counts. U.S. Federal Court Judge Sam Sparks set sentencing for April 22.
Leaving court Friday, Tantillo and her lawyer declined to answer whether she might agree to cooperate with investigators preparing for the Price trial now to reduce her possible sentence.