NBC 5 Investigates has learned the FBI executed two search warrants at the home and office of a man connected to a controversial Dallas County Schools business deal that lost millions of dollars of taxpayer money.
A federal judge has sealed the search warrants for now, but NBC 5 Investigates confirmed federal agents raided a high-rise office in downtown Dallas and a luxury home in a New Orleans suburb on June 26.
The home belongs to Robert Leonard, the CEO of Force Multiplier Solutions; the downtown location was FMS' Dallas office on the 49th floor of Chase Tower. FMS is the company Dallas County Schools partnered with on a deal for stop-arm cameras that put the school bus agency near financial ruin.
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What's more, in February 2015, DCS sold taxpayer-owned land to get fast cash. But the agency still needed the land -- and entered into a lease that obligates taxpayers to cover millions of dollars in payments over the next two decades. A man Leonard has described as his personal real estate consultant profited from the land sale.
Former U.S. Attorney Matt Orwig said when a search warrant is issued that's a significant development in a criminal case and that the FBI was likely searching for financial records to see if there were any improper dealings between FMS and DCS officials.
The FBI will not discuss the nature of the investigation, or even confirm who they are investigating, but they did acknowledge that agents served warrants at Dallas high-rise and at the Leonard home in Louisiana on the same day.
While details of what was seized were sealed by a federal judge, Leonard's attorney, Chris Lewis, released a statement to NBC 5 Investigates where he said his client has been cooperating with federal agents in the investigation.
"It is my understanding that the FBI has been engaged in a lengthy investigation to determine whether there was any criminal misconduct on the part of any person or persons, with respect to the business relationship between Force Multiplier and DCS. During this extremely stressful process, Mr. Leonard has been completely cooperative with the authorities and has done nothing to impede or complicate the FBI's investigation."
Last week, NBC 5 Investigates reported the former Dallas County Schools Superintendent, Rick Sorrells, and his family had a personal relationship with Leonard and that each family rented adjacent apartments in the French Quarter where Sorrells vacationed. Despite the proximity, Sorrells denied Leonard either played a role in him getting the apartment or paid the rent.
Sorrells remains on the payroll at DCS until December under terms of a retirement deal reached with the board earlier this year when he was forced out of his superintendent position amid questions about the agency’s financial troubles. Following the report on the New Orleans apartment, DCS Board President Gloria Levario said she intends to revisit Sorrell's retirement package.
In addition to questions about his ties to the land deal, there have also been questions about large campaign donations Leonard made to the campaign of former DCS Board President Larry Duncan.
In February, NBC 5 Investigates revealed Duncan, when president, accepted $245,000 in campaign contributions from people associated with Force Multiplier Solutions. Duncan insisted the contributions he received from associates of Force Multiplier Solutions did not affect his judgment and that, "all of the rules and the ethics and standards of the state election code have been adhered to."
Duncan stepped down as board president in the spring and announced Oct. 17 he'd resigned his at-large trustee position effective Oct. 13.
Leonard, meanwhile, denies any wrongdoing and appears ready to fight back.
"We are very aware of the FBI's initial opinions related to this investigation, and suffice it to say, we maintain a fundamentally different position as to several key elements," said Lewis, Leonard's attorney. "We believe there will be additional facts that will come to light as this investigation continues, and we implore the authorities to consider these additional facts before they draw conclusions that will invariably impact many lives."
Lewis acknowledged federal agents have seized cars and other property belonging to Leonard. Legal experts told NB5 seizures of assets are often an indication that the government believes those things may have been paid for with money from some illegal activity. Lewis said Leonard will fight any such claim.
Lewis' full statement to NBC 5 Investigates can be read below.
"Bob Leonard is an almost 70-year-old gentleman who has been profoundly instrumental in supporting and promoting the safety of our children for decades. The implementation of his stop-arm camera program on school buses has been hugely successful in many school districts across the country at increasing child safety while punishing those offenders who disregard the traffic control devices that have been put in place to literally protect hundreds of thousands of school-aged children as they get to school and back home each day.
In June of this year, the FBI executed search warrants at both Mr. Leonard’s home in Louisiana and the Dallas office of his company, Force Multiplier Solutions. It is my understanding that the FBI has been engaged in a lengthy investigation to determine whether there was any criminal misconduct on the part of any person or persons with respect to the business relationship between Force Multiplier and DCS.
During this extremely stressful process, Mr. Leonard has been completely cooperative with the authorities and has done nothing to impede or complicate the FBI’s investigation in any way.
We are very aware of the FBI’s initial opinions related to this investigation, and suffice it to say, we maintain a fundamentally different position as to several key elements related to their opinions. We believe there will be additional facts that will come to light as this investigation continues, and we implore the authorities to consider these additional facts before they draw conclusions that will invariably impact many lives.”