by Jack Douglas | CBS11
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Tensions rose Monday in John Wiley Price’s political corruption trial, with former Dallas County Judge Jim Foster saying Price, after a contentious vote in 2007, called him an “S.O.B.” and threatened him with a “clinched fist.”
Foster recalled that the Dallas County Commissioners Court had just voted to designate part of the county’s southside as a federally-recognized “Foreign Trade Zone” when Price, unhappy with the vote, turned on him.
“He leaned over right by my ear and whispered, ‘You sorry S.O.B. I ought to lay you over,'” said Foster, who was county judge from 2007 to 2010.
Foster told the jury he immediately recessed the commissioners meeting, to “restore order,” then moved to a back stairway where Price approached again, placed his clinched fist next to his head, then repeated the slur and the threat to physically attack him.
When prosecutor Kathleen Miller asked whether he feared Price would hit him, the former judge said, “I fully believe… he probably would have” if security officers had not been nearby.
Foster was called by the government in an effort to show Price worked to stall the commissioners’ trade zone vote because his friend, lobbyist Kathy Nealy, was being paid by a competing land development company, Hillwood, to win the designation.
The May 1, 2007 vote by the Commissioners Court was an important one for South Dallas County, because it advanced the work to designate the area as an inland port for trade and distribution of foreign goods, with certain relief from taxes and custom fees. That, in turn, would bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the area.
Foster, who now lives in Florida, at times seemed confused on the stand, his voice beginning to tremble, when cross-examined by Price’s defense attorney, Shirley Baccus-Lobel.
Baccus-Lobel hammered away at Foster’s memory of Price, and his time as county judge, at one point telling him: “I’m not fussing at you at all… you just have no recollection…”
During one exchange, Foster said he was confused over where the defense lawyer was “going” with her questions, and added, “Read me again what you are saying.”
Baccus-Lobel curtly responded, “You don’t need to be confused about where I’m going. Just answer my questions.”
The jury also heard from Margaret Keliher, who was Dallas County Judge from 2002 to 2006.
Keliher was asked whether she knew about sensitive contract proposals, regarding digitizing county records, that were found in the summer of 2011 during an FBI raid at Nealy’s home.
“I don’t know how that could happen,” she said. “It was confidential and shouldn’t have gone past the commissioners.”
The day began with Mike Cantrell, who still serves as a commissioner with Price, telling the jury he will not be doing what the FBI says Price did – drive fancy cars and carry loads of cash provided to him in bribes from his lobbyist friend, Nealy.
Cantrell, who will retire at the end of his term, was shown several emails between Price and Nealy. Those emails, according to Prosecutor Walt Junker, showed Price was providing confidential bidding information to Nealy, giving her clients the edge in winning lucrative contracts with Dallas County.
Junker then provided Cantrell with an FBI tally of 583 transactions between Price and Nealy, resulting in the now-embattled commissioner receiving more than $907,000 – a figure the government says rises to $950,000 when you add in luxury vehicles and real estate.
“When you retire,” Junker asked Cantrell, will he receive such a financial windfall?
“No,” the witness said.
The answer was the same when the prosecutor continued: “When you retire, will you be driving a Chevrolet Avalanche given to you by a lobbyist… will you be driving a BMW given to you by a lobbyist?”
In cross-examination, Cantrell, who has served with Price on the Commissioners Court for more than 20 years, told defense attorney Chris Knox that Price was one of the most “well-read” elected officials he has ever known.
“No question in your mind about his allegiance to his constituents in Dallas County,” Knox asked.
Cantrell: “That’s correct.”
Price and his executive assistant, Dapheny Fain, are being tried in federal court on charges they conspired together, along with Nealy, to take money from large corporations, then converted that money into bribes for Price, in exchange for his inside knowledge and influence in selecting who would win large county contracts and land deals.
They are also charged with hiding their ill-gotten gains from the Internal Revenue Service.
Nealy faces similar federal charges and is scheduled to stand trial at a later time.