One of the most powerful elected officials in Dallas received tens of thousands of dollars from a man who recently pleaded guilty to federal charges in an ongoing corruption investigation at Dallas County Schools, NBC 5 Investigates has learned.
“Now this probably doesn’t look too good,” said Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, in an exclusive interview at his City Hall office this week. “But at the end of the day, that was not where I was going, that was not what I was about."[[471186993,R]]
Caraway was responding to records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates in which he reported receiving more than $25,000 in 2013 from a company run by Slater Swartwood, a Louisiana man now facing federal prison time in an ongoing FBI corruption investigation in Dallas.
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Other records show Swartwood’s company, Elf Investments, gave Caraway’s family a $20,000 home loan in 2014 – a loan that the city councilman says remains outstanding, with no money paid back.
Swartwood has admitted in federal court documents that he helped direct millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from a school bus camera company to the former top official at Dallas County Schools.
For more than a century, the beleaguered DCS provided buses to North Texas schools until voters – aware that the agency had squandered millions of taxpayer dollars in its dealings with the camera company – elected in November to shut it down.
In his interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Caraway insisted repeatedly he knew of nothing improper going on at DCS, and was not involved in the bus camera program other than to later cast votes on the City Council – like other members did - that moved the program forward.
Instead, he said, he was paid a retainer by Swartwood’s company, Elf Investments, to work as a “consultant” in Elf’s efforts to purchase and develop land in south Dallas.
In a financial disclosure report that is required by all Dallas City Council members, Caraway disclosed his retainer from Swartwood’s company, checking a box that said he received “$25,000-or more.”
In his interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Caraway said he could not remember how much over $25,000 he was paid.
Asked if it was more than $50,000, Caraway said: “I don’t know. Probably.”
Asked if his pay could have been more than $100,000, he said: “I doubt it. But I don’t know.”
“Only thing I can tell you is that his company engaged to try to find an opportunity that was going to create housing in our area,” said Caraway, whose council district represents much of south Dallas.
In insisting he had nothing to hide, Caraway noted that he filled out the required paperwork for elected officials, showing outside income.
“I think the right thing to be looking at is I disclosed mine. So I did everything I’m supposed to do legally,” he said.
NBC 5 Investigates also received records that show Swartwood’s company, Elf Investments, loaned $20,000 to Caraway’s now-deceased father in 2014, to help pay back taxes and make repairs on rental property owned by the family.
Initially in his interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Caraway said, “This loan has been one that is being paid in such a manner. Let me say it this way, they have been very gracious … because there was an amount of time that we had to pay this back.”
He later said neither he, nor anyone else, had made a single payment on the loan, adding that no one has asked for a payment.
“I am going to be honest with you. No. Not back on this (loan),” Caraway said.
Swartwood, who in December pleaded guilty to a federal charge of money laundering, admitted in court documents that he helped direct millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from a school bus camera company to the former top official at Dallas County Schools.
At the time, Robert Leonard was CEO of the camera company, Force Multiplier Solutions, also known as FMS. Leonard is also a part of the FBI’s investigation into the business dealings between his company and Dallas County Schools.
Caraway told NBC 5 Investigates he spent time with both Leonard and Swartwood as both men scouted south Dallas, looking at properties.
But he said he was working only for Swartwood and did not know Swartwood and Leonard had a close business relationship.
“Everybody knows everybody, Scott, OK,” Caraway said in his interview with NBC 5’s senior investigative reporter, Scott Friedman, who noted that, at the time, Swartwood also worked for Leonard as a real estate consultant.
“But to delve into whether they have an additional relationship over here … I’m not the one to know that,” he said.
After being paid the retainer by Elf Investments, and after his father received the home loan from the company, Caraway in 2015 took action on the City Council that benefited Leonard’s company and DCS.
In that council meeting, he helped convince other members to grant DCS a 25-year extension of the agreement that allowed DCS to continue operating the school bus camera program with FMS.
“And this is the council that made the decision to get this bill implemented in the beginning for the safety of the children,” Caraway said at that meeting.
At the time, DCS needed city approval to keep issuing tickets to drivers caught illegally passing stopped school buses – all caught on installed cameras supplied by Leonard’s company.
The agreement also allowed Leonard to get a cut of the ticket revenue collected by DCS.
In the interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Caraway insisted his votes for the program had nothing to do with his relationships to Leonard or Swartwood.
Friedman asked, “Did you trade money for votes?”
“Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It was keeping the kids safe and a program that appeared not to have any problems,” Caraway said.
Chris Lewis, an attorney for Leonard, said in a statement to NBC 5 Investigates Thursday, “Bob’s involvement with Caraway had nothing to do with DCS and FMS. I understand why you are potentially making that connection. It’s just not accurate.” In the past, Leonard’s attorneys told NBC 5 Investigates that neither he nor his company did anything wrong.
The FBI also declined to comment.
Former U.S. Attorney Matt Orwig told NBC 5 Investigates he believes federal prosecutors may look closer at Caraway’s dealings with Swartwood, because Swartwood is already a central figure in the ongoing investigation at DCS.
“And there is no way I would not want further information about all of these transactions and Mr. Caraway’s relation to the alleged fraudster,” Orwig said.
Caraway said in the interview he would welcome questions from the FBI, and that he has nothing to do with problems at DCS, which is in the process of being shut down.
“Tell the truth, you have no fear,” he said, adding: “I have dotted the I’s and crossed my T’s as related to being a citizen and an official representing the city. And I have done that.’
Caraway also said he did not know the people he was dealing with would end up in trouble with federal authorities.
“And the end of the day, you cannot control what people do,” he said.
“You can stand next to a rapist and not know that he’s a rapist,” Caraway said, adding: “You can stand next to a woman beater and not know that he goes home and beats his wife.”