Dallas Mayor on School Bus Camera Vote: ‘One of the Dumbest Things We Have Ever Done'

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings declined to comment Friday on an exclusive report by NBC 5 Investigates that showed Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway had financial ties with a man who has pleaded guilty in an ongoing federal corruption investigation at Dallas County Schools.

Rawlings said he would leave it up to the city's ethics commission to decide whether there was any impropriety in the fact that Caraway and his family took tens of thousands of dollars from Slater Swartwood Sr., who in December pleaded guilty to money laundering in a conspiracy to bribe a top official at DCS.

"Let the process work, and we will decide what we want to do once the ethics commission has their findings," Rawlings said during a break at a mayors' conference in Washington, D.C.

City officials did not respond later in the day on whether the city's ethics commission will, in fact, look at Caraway's dealings with Swartwood.

Swartwood's guilty plea came as the result of an FBI corruption investigation into DCS's past transactions with a school bus camera company.

Those transactions cost taxpayers millions of dollars and, after a lengthy investigation by NBC 5 Investigates, drove voters to begin shutting down the century-old DCS school bus agency.

While declining to comment on Caraway, Rawlings did express regret that he and other members of the Dallas City Council, including Caraway, voted in the past to advance the camera program at DCS.

"It's obvious that this vote from the city council was one of the dumbest things we have ever done," the mayor said, adding: "I am sorry for my vote. It was a bad vote."

NBC 5 Investigates obtained records that show Caraway, the second most prominent elected official on the City Council, worked as a "consultant" for Elf Investments, a company that prosecutors say Swartwood ran as a way to funnel several million dollars in bribes to the top DCS official.

Those bribes, prosecutors say in court documents, came from the owner of the school bus camera company, who was also a business associate of Swartwood's.

Caraway told NBC 5 Investigates he knew nothing of the transactions between the camera company and DCS, and was only hired by Swartwood to help him look for real estate in Dallas.

In 2013 and 2014, Caraway filed financial disclosure reports that show he received two retainers, each for more than $25,000, from Elf Investments.

NBC 5 Investigates also obtained records that show the company loaned Caraway's father $20,000 – a loan that the mayor pro tem admits has never been repaid.

Caraway said the loan was made so his family could make repairs and pay back taxes on rental property they owned.

In the interview at his City Hall office, Caraway said he never would have taken the retainers, or agreed to the loan for his father, if he'd known Swartwood and his company would become part of a federal corruption investigation.

"Now this probably doesn't look too good. I understand that, okay," he said.

"But at the end of the day, that was not where I was going, that was not what I was about," Caraway said.

In 2015, Caraway voted with the majority on the City Council to pass a city ordinance that extended the life of a now-failed program in which surveillance cameras were placed on DCS school buses as a way to catch motorists who illegally passed the buses when they were stopped.

That vote benefited Swartwood's business associate, Robert Leonard, the CEO of the camera company and a person of interest in the FBI's investigation at DCS.

Caraway said the money he and his family received from Swartwood's company did not influence him in any way when it came time for him to cast votes on the City Council.

"Absolutely not," he said.

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