Dallas County

Dallas County Schools Closes Down, FBI Probe, Debts Linger

DCS closed Tuesday, but the shutdown committee will remain for five more years

It’s been around for 170 years, the last two cloaked in controversy, but Tuesday spelled the end for Dallas County Schools.

Voters last year elected to begin shutting down DCS in the wake of a scandal first uncovered by NBC 5 Investigates.

But while the DCS logo is down, an ongoing FBI investigation continues, one that has so far secured federal guilty pleas from the school bus agency's former superintendent, who admitted taking bribes, and a Louisiana businessman, who admitted facilitating those bribes.

Meanwhile, school buses in Dallas County carry a different name, taken from area school districts that have inherited the job of taking kids to class.

"Every day you wondered if somebody was going to come in and shut you down because you hadn't paid the debt," said Alan King, chief executive officer of the committee picked to dissolve DCS, while trying to figure out how to pay off its massive debts.

"It was an agonizing journey," King said.

As far back as four years ago, NBC 5 Investigates began asking questions about why DCS was continuing to purchase surveillance cameras for its buses, also known as "stop-arm" cameras, despite losing millions of tax dollars in the transactions.

Another question: What was the relationship between Rick Sorrells, at the time DCS' superintendent, and Robert Leonard, owner of the company that was selling the camera’s to the bus agency?

Part of the answer to that question, NBC 5 Investigates found, was that Sorrells and Leonard had a personal relationship, including having side-by-side vacation apartments in New Orleans' storied French Quarter.

Then in April, Sorrells pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge, admitting he took $3 million in bribes in exchange for awarding the camera contracts to Leonard's company, Force Multiplier Solutions.

That plea followed that of Slater Swartwood Sr., a Louisiana businessman and close associate of Leonard's, who pleaded guilty to money laundering for being the middle man in the bribery scheme.

While not addressing the DCS investigation specifically, Eric Jackson, special agent in charge of the FBI in Dallas, said, "…I promised the community that we would work in a quiet manner, and we would work hard, to bring justice to those individuals that use their positions of trust to benefit from."

Leonard, whose home and business were raided by the FBI last year, has not been charged with a crime.

His attorney has not responded to recent requests for a comment. But in a past phone interview, Leonard said he had done nothing wrong and blamed the camera program's failure on mismanagement by Sorrells and others at DCS.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation told NBC 5 Investigates that the FBI has also been asking questions about Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway.

In an interview with NBC 5 in January, Caraway said he accepted tens of thousands of dollars from the same company Swartwood used to pay bribes at DCS.

He said the money was for real estate consulting work he did for Swartwood, with no connection to DCS.

Caraway denied any wrongdoing.

At DCS headquarters, there was nothing to mark its last day of business.

And while their superintendent has fallen in disgrace, DCS' many employees – bus drivers, school crossing guards, secretaries, to name a few – won praise for sticking it out.

"Had they not been here it would have made it almost impossible to finish the year," said King, the dissolution committee's CEO.

"So we were blessed to have those people around," King said, adding, "Blessed they stuck it out with us. And those are the ones who are going to feel the pain the most."

While DCS is gone, the shutdown committee will remain for another five years – the time needed for taxpayers to pay off the tens of millions of dollars in debt, all because of what was going on behind the cameras.

Contact Us