North Texas

Vendor Emails Describe Fine Dining, Casino Chips for Ex-President of Dallas County Schools

A room at a five-star hotel in New Orleans. Dining at the finest restaurants in The Big Easy. Complimentary tickets for scenic tours.

And free gambling at Harrah's Casino.

They were all gifts to Larry Duncan, according to emails obtained by NBC 5 Investigates, when he was board president at Dallas County Schools.

And the gifts, the emails say, were provided through Force Multiplier Solutions, the school bus camera company that partnered with DCS, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

The two emails from April of last year raise new concerns about Duncan, then a top leader at Dallas County Schools, and his relationship with Force Multiplier Solutions and its CEO, Robert Leonard, in DCS business deals that are now under FBI investigation.

The luxury trip to New Orleans included $300 in casino chips for Duncan to use while he was there, according to the emails, written by an assistant to Leonard.

The messages describe Force Multiplier's plan to provide Duncan with four nights at a fancy hotel.

"Below is Larry Duncan's itinerary for his trip to New Orleans," Leonard's assistant wrote in the emails.

"All of the dinners will be paid for on our company card. I will go to the Windsor Court (Hotel) to tip all concierge/valet, and make sure they know Larry Duncan is our guest," the assistant said in her emails, adding:

"I will also have an envelope with all of his tour tickets and the $300 in Harrah's chips that I will have Jackie put in his room for his arrival."

The emails continue to detailed plans for Duncan's visit: dinners at famed New Orleans restaurants Antoine's, Dickie Brennan's and GW Fins, plus another dinner at a steakhouse inside the casino.

Then there's a six-hour plantation tour, described as a swamp tour, and a jazz brunch and cruise aboard a Mississippi River steamboat.

The itinerary does not mention any business meetings.

NBC 5 Investigates could not determine whether Duncan took the trip.

Duncan did not respond to repeated attempts for comment, including leaving emails, text messages, phone messages and a visit to his front door. He hung up during one attempt to talk to him on the phone.

Duncan stepped down as DCS board president last May and resigned from the board in October. He has hired Dallas criminal defense attorney Barry Sorrels, who said he's advised Duncan not to comment.

Sorrels has no relation to former DCS superintendent Rick Sorrells.

Earlier this year, Duncan told NBC 5 Investigates he'd never accepted trips or complimentary meals from Robert Leonard.

When asked then about such perks, he said: "No…it's a business associate…No, I have not traveled with Bob."

For months, Duncan's dealings with Leonard have been under scrutiny, after NBC 5 Investigates reported he accepted almost a quarter-million dollars in campaign contributions from Leonard and other people connected to Force Multiplier.

A private investigator hired by DCS has said the donations "could be construed as a bribe," because they came at times when DCS was considering new business deals with Force Multiplier.

Duncan has in past interviews insisted the donations were legal and ethical, telling NBC 5 Investigates in February, "I will not stand for my reputation being questioned. Twenty years, I've been in public service."

Leonard's attorney said he was unable to answer questions about the emails describing plans to pay for Duncan's trip to New Orleans. And Leonard's assistant did not respond to requests for comment.

In the past, Leonard has told NBC 5 Investigates he has done nothing wrong.

In June, FBI agents raided Leonard's home in New Orleans as part of their investigation into the bus camera deals between Dallas County Schools and Force Multiplier Solutions.

The partnership cost DCS millions of taxpayer dollars before voters elected to shut the school agency down in early November.

"What you have here are bad optics – a lot of money flowing, a lot of money lost. And taxpayers on the hooks," said Matt Orwig, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern Division of Dallas.

Now in private practice, specializing in white-collar crimes, Orwig said the emails about possible gifts could be useful to investigators.

"Anytime you can paint the picture of what the relationship between the vendor and the governmental official is, that's going to be something that's very significant to the government," he said.

Duncan's lawyer has said he has not been notified that his client is the target of any federal investigation, and he said no warrants have been served on Duncan.

Legal experts told NBC 5 Investigates that if Duncan took the trip to New Orleans, state law would require him to disclose any gifts worth more than $100.

DCS records show Duncan did not file any disclosures after the dates of the planned trip, as described in the emails.

The emails ended up in DCS records because Leonard's assistant forwarded them to then-DCS superintendent Rick Sorrells, "per Bob (Leonard's) request," during the time Duncan was scheduled to be in New Orleans.

Sorrells has his own New Orleans ties to Leonard.

In October, NBC 5 Investigates reported that Sorrells kept a vacation apartment in the French Quarter that was next door to an apartment leased by Leonard.

Sorrells, who earlier this year left DCS, has denied any wrongdoing.

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