DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A federal judge refused to declare a mistrial in the John Wiley Price bribery case, but ordered the recall of two star FBI witnesses because of prosecutors’ mistakes.
Although she denied a request by the defense to simply strike earlier testimony by former FBI Agent Don Sherman and FBI analyst David Garcia, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn lashed out at prosecutors for not adequately sharing the two agents’ roles in the massive investigation.
Defense lawyers for Price and his executive assistant, Dapheny Fain, had argued they would have been better prepared to cross-examine Sherman and Garcia when they first took the witness stand, had they known the full scope of their involvement in the case.
Sherman was once the lead investigator in the case, before suffering a stroke, and Garcia took the lead in tracing what the FBI said were bribes accepted by Price.
Lynn said both men can be recalled by the defense, with little chance of allowing the bedraggled prosecutors a second turn to also question them.
“I’m very disappointed…it’s just preposterous,” the judge angrily said, noting the government has had years to properly prepare for trial.
The disruption overshadowed the highly anticipated testimony from FBI agent Allen Wilson, who led the Price investigation after Sherman became sick.
Wilson said the FBI launched a secret investigation in May 2010 after agents realized his 2008 personal financial statements did not accurately reflect his greater income – money, the government says, that was garnered by taking bribes.
He then described for the jury the seldom-seen actions of a yearlong FBI covert operation, using “pole cameras” and the publicly available computer app, Google Street View, to spy on Price’s home and a business owned by Fain.
Wilson said they were especially interested in the expensive vehicles seen in Price’s driveway, including an Aston Martin that he said was traded for a Bentley.
They were all driven by the commissioner, according to the agent, but on paper owned by his friend, lobbyist Kathy Nealy, a co-defendant in the bribery investigation.
Wilson said that at the beginning, on April 29, 2010, he and Sherman “simply drove by” Price’s home, traced the plates on a late-model Chevrolet Avalanche pickup in the driveway, and, “How about that,” it was shown to be owned by Nealy.
Price’s lead lawyer, Shirley Baccus-Lobel, objected when Wilson told the jury he and Sherman thought it was “strange” that Nealy – a woman – would own such a pickup truck.
Wilson said the FBI was also secretly watching when Price dined with another friend, Karen Manning, a Dallas dealer of African artwork who has pleaded guilty to lesser tax crimes in connection with the case.
In a broad investigation that has lasted seven years, the government has accused Price of taking nearly $1 million in bribes – using Nealy as a conduit – in exchange for his help in steering lucrative government contracts and other business to lobbyist Nealy’s corporate clients.
In addition, the embattled commissioner is accused of hiding his ill-gotten gains, with assistance from Fain and Nealy, from the Internal Revenue Service.