DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – County Commissioner Mike Cantrell took the stand Wednesday in the federal bribery trial of his former ally in local government, fellow Commissioner John Wiley Price, and repeatedly said he would not do what the government says Price has done — made lucrative “side deals” with companies seeking multimillion-dollar contracts with the county.
Called by the prosecution, Cantrell told the jury he was not aware Price was taking “bribes” during the more than 20 years the two have been on the powerful information technology steering committee, which works to award IT contracts to large corporations.
If he had known, he said, he would have reported it to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.
With his fellow commissioner staring at him from the defense table, Cantrell said it was vital to keep confidential the contract selection process, and that any leaked information — which the FBI says Price did often — could give an unfair advantage to bidders.
“It can skew everything and create an unfair playing field,” he said, adding: “It would discourage people from bidding.”
It was a courtroom encounter unlike any other in Dallas’ storied political history.
Price is the senior member of the Commissioners Court, serving since 1985, followed by Cantrell, who joined the court in 1994. And while Cantrell is the only Republican member, he often worked closely with the powerful Democrat when it came to county fiscal matters.
The two have distanced themselves from one another, however, since Price’s indictment in 2014.
On the stand, Cantrell described Price as “probably the most knowledgeable in the county” when it came to local government business, and he said his colleague had a community “network” unlike any other. But he said he was unaware that Price, as the government contends, worked behind the scenes with lobbyist Kathy Nealy and his executive assistant, Dapheny Fain, to take and then hide bribes that amassed into nearly $1 million in cash, luxury cars and real estate.
“Should a commissioner be making side deals with [companies] wanting a contract?” prosecutor Walt Junker asked.
Cantrell responded: “No they should not.”
The corruption trial for Price and Fain ended early for the week, with Cantrell expected to return to the witness stand on Monday. Nealy is scheduled to stand trial at a later date.