North Texas

Dallas Mayor Rawlings Second-Guesses Meeting With Man Now Under FBI Scrutiny

As the leader of one of the largest cities in the United States, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings meets and greets a lot of people.

He now has second thoughts about one of those introductions, and what he would do afterwards.

"It was weird that he was going to meet a prince from the UAE, and they were going to drop all of this money," Rawlings said of his meeting with Robert Leonard, head of Force Multiplier Solutions, the school bus camera company with government contracts that eventually spelled financial doom for Dallas County Schools.

Rawlings's meetings with Leonard, the first around 2013 and then again in 2016, occurred before FMS's business dealings with DCS became the focus of an FBI bribery and government corruption investigation.

That probe has, so far, resulted in one man – a Leonard associate – pleading guilty to federal money laundering charges.

The mayor told NBC 5 Investigates that at the 2016 meeting, over drinks at the Time Out Tavern on Lovers Lane in north Dallas, Leonard pitched a grand plan of building a new sports stadium in Dallas – with the participation of a prince from the United Arab Emirates.

While Rawlings said he considered the plan somewhat far-fetched, he thought at the time, "What if this is real, because this would be a great thing."

The mayor subsequently agreed to write a letter on Leonard's behalf, to what he thought would be a "handler" for the prince, in which he said, "I have known Robert for many years, and he has done great work for the city of Dallas.

"I think it would be mutually beneficial for the two of you to meet …I trust Robert to facilitate great projects for the future of Dallas."

Reading over the letter again, during a recent interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Rawlings says he now regrets writing it.

"He obviously didn't do great work for the city of Dallas," he said, adding, "That whole business model was a failure at DCS and has caused a lot of pain, and taxpayers a lot of money."

Last summer, the FBI served search warrants at Leonard's home near New Orleans, and at Force Multiplier offices in downtown Dallas, as part of their investigation into its business transactions with DCS.

Those dealings, to equip schools buses with FMS surveillance cameras, led to failure, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and motivating voters in November to begin shutting down the century-old school bus agency.

In a rare interview several months ago, Leonard told NBC 5 Investigates he did nothing wrong, and that mismanagement at DCS caused the camera program to fail.

Rawlings told NBC 5 Investigates he realizes the "optics" might look strange for him to have met with someone now under FBI scrutiny…and at a place, the Time Out Tavern, known as a popular "dive bar" in the city.

"Well, of course you don't want people to think the mayor is doing anything untoward," he said.

"But they also need to understand that I've been to the Time Out Tavern with dozens and dozens of business people. That's just the way I do business," Rawlings said.

Rawlings said it was Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway who first introduced him to Leonard in 2013.

"It was up here at City Hall. Mr. Caraway was walking around with him and he said this guy is moving his business to Dallas," Rawlings said.

As NBC 5 Investigates first reported, Caraway had financial ties to one of Leonard's closest associates, Slater Swartwood Sr., Leonard's real estate consultant.

In financial disclosure reports, Caraway reported that Swartwood twice paid him at least $25,000 to help search for places to build housing in south Dallas.

Swartwood also loaned Caraway's family $20,000. In a recent interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Caraway said the loan had not been repaid.

Caraway said he has done nothing wrong, and had no involvement with DCS's work with Force Multiplier.

Swartwood, meanwhile, recently pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in the DCS investigation, admitting he funneled millions of dollars in bribes from Leonard's company to a top DCS official.

After being introduced by Caraway, Rawlings said he and Leonard met in October 2013 at the Princi Italia, an Italian restaurant near Preston Road and Royal Lane.

Four days after that meeting, Leonard sent Rawlings a letter, obtained by NBC 5 Investigates, in which Leonard asks the mayor to "publically [sic] and personally commend" DCS officials for their bus camera program.

He also asked Rawlings to "personally contact the mayor of San Antonio," where Leonard was seeking another bus camera contract.

Leonard also complained that the city's real estate division was being "unresponsive" to his request to build a new facility for his company, and for Dallas County Schools, on city-owned property near Fair Park.

Rawlings told NBC 5 Investigates he did not remember the letter, and did not do any of the things Leonard requested.

"He seemed to be a creative guy. He never asked me to do anything untoward," the mayor said, adding: "…he was just trying to pitch his companies and help in Dallas, which we do day in and day out here."

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