DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – County Commissioner John Wiley Price’s attorney acknowledged reports Wednesday that FBI agents removed $100,000 in cash from his client’s home Monday, although he said he hasn’t viewed an official search warrant.
FBI agents stormed Price’s home and office along with those of Kathy Nealy, his political consultant, and Dapheney Fain, his assistant.
Agents also went to the office of county clerk John Warren to obtain Price’s financial disclosure statements. The county requires Price and all other commissioners to file the statements every year.
Billy Ravkind, Price’s Dallas-based attorney who also represented former councilman Al Lipscomb when he faced federal bribery charges, said he expects the FBI and IRS are each looking for evidence to support bribery charges against his client.
Ravkind said he is confident his client can explain any money the FBI took from the home, whether that amounts to the $100,000 that some reports have alleged the FBI took from his client’s safe or not.
“I can’t comment on that, but what I will tell you is simply this: If they found anything in the home, every penny can be accounted for,” Ravkind said. “Now, I’m not saying they did, because at this point in time I haven’t seen the search warrant.”
Ravkind said he’s hired his own forensic account experts to analyze Price’s automobiles, his real estate transactions and any finances attached to his 20-year sponsorship of Kwanzaa Fest.
In searching the three, the FBI targeted the founder, president and director of Kwanzaa Fest. An FBI spokesman declined to comment about whether the warrants are related to the festival, citing the ongoing investigation.
Kwanzaa Fest is a two-day cultural and educational event that began in 1991 and attracts more than 50,000 people annually to Fair Park. Last year, the FBI was forwarded an investigation of Kwanzaa Fest conducted by former agent Danny Defenbaugh.
That investigation accused Price of refusing to turn over financial and tax records from the 2007 and 2008 events. It also listed the names of 22 deputy constables who claimed they were coerced into providing security for the event without pay.
One of those deputies, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he worked the festival for nearly 18 years.
“The best of my recollection, we got comp time from Dallas County for one year and the rest of it was voluntary,” the deputy said. “But, really, it was more or less pressured unto.”
The Precinct 5 deputy elaborated, saying he was essentially told he would not be allowed to work an off duty or extra job if he did not work the event.
Jaime Cortes, the former constable over Precinct 5, disputed the allegations, saying that working the event was strictly voluntary.
“I’m not going to say much other than I’ve always thought that report was a farce and to this day I still believe that,” Cortes said. “I’ve worked it since 1997. It was one way to give back to the community and I would do it again.”
Tax returns from 2007 and 2008 show the main activities of Kwanzaa Fest involved mailing educational publications to more than 1,700 households.
The organization’s revenue from those years is listed at about $200,000. According to the returns, 49 deputy constables provided security during the 2007 or 2008 festivals and reportedly received a total of just $15,000 from the county.
Twenty two of the deputies claim they were not compensated for the event, which is not sanctioned by the county.
According to the investigation, some of those deputies claim vendors told them they paid an additional fee for security. But at least one of those deputies said they didn’t see a dime of it.
“They told me, yeah, we had to pay two fees; one for the booth fee, and the other one for security,” the anonymous deputy said. “Me and the other officers looked at each other and said we never received the money. I thought it was unfair and I was made to do something against my will.”
Ravkind said he believes his client will be indicted, though he’s unsure of what. He declined to reveal any explanations Price has for cash taken by the FBI and did not discuss the Kwanzaa Fest investigation.
“I prefer the easy way, and that’s show that we can explain it, show that we can account for everything,” he said. “We have an explanation for everything we did.”
Three of the federal search warrants executed Monday – two for Price’s cars and one for his person – concerned any electronic storage devices, including things like personal computers, mobile phones, personal data assistants, iPhones, iPads, disks and thumbdrives.
The warrants also sought any computer cookies and passwords dating back to 2001, in addition to safety deposit box keys and any sums of cash found of $500 or more.
Federal authorities will not discuss the motive of Monday’s searches.
CLARIFICATION: Ravkind never confirmed that the FBI took $100,000 from Price’s home, he merely acknowledged the reports. He did not confirm nor deny that federal agents took any specific amount of money, as the story above notes.