DALLAS (CBS11) – Federal agents and prosecutors investigated and pursued Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price for seven years.
So Matt Orwig, the former U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas, said Friday’s verdicts acquitting Price on seven of the 11 counts, including bribery, certainly stung the government.
“There is no way to sugar coat it. It is a stunning loss for the government,” said Orwig. “I’m sure it’s a huge disappointment for them.”
Jurors deadlocked on the four tax counts against Price and U.S. Judge Barbara Lynn declared a mistrial on those counts.
Commissioner Price’s assistant Dapheny Fain was found not guilty on a charge she lied to the FBI and another tax-related charge.
Now, federal prosecutors face two key decisions in the next four weeks, including whether they will re-try the case against Commissioner Price on the four tax counts jurors deadlocked on.
“That’s going to be a very tough decision for the government because on one hand, these are the very strongest counts they have. On the other hand, this was not a comfortable experience for them,” said Orwig.
Prosecutors will also have to decide whether to take Price’s consultant Kathy Nealy to trial.
She is charged with funneling nearly $1 million in cash, land, and cars to Price.
John Parker, the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Texas, which includes Dallas, released a statement saying he and his team will be meeting to decide what to do in this case.
Orwig said the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C. will likely play a role in that decision.
He said the Nealy case is challenging for prosecutors as well. “The gist of the case against Kathy Nealy is conspiring with Commissioner Price. Now that Commissioner Price was found not guilty of the conspiracy, it’s going to be more difficult to say there’s a strong case against her.”
If the government still wants to take Nealy to trial, Judge Lynn has said she will first hold a hearing to determine whether Nealy is immune from prosecution.
That’s because Nealy struck an immunity deal with prosecutors during the Don Hill public corruption trial at Dallas City Hall in exchange for her cooperation.
But the deal wasn’t put into writing.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of it. I was at the Department of Justice for 16 to 17 years, did a number of immunity agreements, perhaps hundreds of them, I’ve never had one not in writing. So I just don’t understand,” said Orwig. “There may have been a reason.”