It was only two years ago that Dallas County Treasurer Pauline Medrano, all smiles, told a large audience in the nation’s capital that she was “peacock proud” to introduce her friend, businessman Robert Leonard.
There was reason to smile: Leonard was about to announce a $1 million donation to a political organization that Medrano helped lead, the NALEO Educational Fund.
Today, the smiles have faded and Medrano has gone silent on her relationship with Leonard, who is now under FBI investigation in a corruption case at Dallas County Schools.
“I’ve got to go. Thank you,” was all she said after a recent Dallas County Commissioner’s Court meeting, where NBC 5 Investigates attempted to interview her about Leonard.
NALEO stands for the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, a powerful non-profit organization whose mission statement advocates for “full Latino participation in the American political process, from citizenship to public service.”
Medrano was elected county treasurer in 2015, with Leonard donating $15,000 for her campaign. In addition, she is now president of NALEO.
At the organization’s gathering in Washington, Medrano said of the tuxedoed Leonard, “I’m very pleased, I’m honored.
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I’m peacock proud to welcome …my personal and dear friend, Mr. Robert Leonard, chairman and CEO of Force Multiplier Solutions Inc.”
But as Medrano’s political career advanced, Leonard’s business ventures hit a roadblock, drawing the interest of FBI agents in their ongoing investigation of his company’s school bus camera contracts with Dallas County Schools.
Leonard has not been charged with a crime and denies doing anything wrong.
But one of his close associates has pleaded guilty to federal charges, in exchange for his testimony, in what prosecutors describe as a scheme that directed bribes to a government official at DCS.
Leonard’s $1 million pledge to NALEO also soured, with the organization saying his company stepped away from the pledge for financial reasons, after giving about $167,000.
(NBC 5’s parent company, Comcast, is among the companies that support NALEO.)
Medrano was on the Dallas City Council in 2012 when it unanimously approved an ordinance that allowed DCS to operate a surveillance camera program. It entailed a way in which drivers could be ticketed for illegally passing school buses.
Force Multiplier, which partnered with DCS to run the program, made millions in the partnership. Meanwhile, Leonard made campaign contributions to many local politicians, including Medrano.
A source with knowledge of the DCS camera deals said Leonard invested in relationships with Medrano and NALEO in hopes that they would help him and DCS win camera contracts in other cities with Latino elected officials.
“Miss Medrano’s name came up whenever getting Los Angeles done, or anything in San Antonio, to help with the officials down there. Cause a lot of them were members of that big Hispanic organization,” the source told NBC 5 Investigates, referring to NALEO.
“So by having her, being able to talk to her, that would help them get the cameras,” the source said.
Emails obtained by NBC 5 Investigates indicate Medrano helped bring San Antonio officials to Dallas to see the cameras. It was at a time when Leonard’s company and DCS were seeking an ordinance that would allow them to expand their camera business to San Antonio.
“Pauline Medrano asked that I keep you updated that NALEO E.D. (executive director) Arturo Vargas will be in town,” said an email in 2015 from a DCS board member to Rick Sorrells, who was the school bus agency’s superintendent at the time.
“We are hopefully bringing a San Antonio city council member and others…I know they wanted to check out how the stop light camera program works,” the email continued.
Another email indicated Leonard, Medrano and Vargas, from NALEO, were also scheduled to attend the Dallas meeting with the San Antonio officials.
Vargas declined to comment for this story. A NALEO spokesperson told NBC 5 Investigates: “Neither he nor the organization will be making any further comments on the issue at this time.”
Last month, some Dallas City Council members announced they would give up campaign contributions they received from Leonard, in light of the FBI investigation, and donate the money to charity.
Medrano did not respond to questions on whether she would do the same, with Leonard’s $15,000 contribution to her campaign.
For now, there’s only silence – about the man she once called a friend.