DALLAS - Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway has pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges and resigned from the city council in a stunning fall from power by one of Dallas' most notable politicians.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox said Caraway admitted in court Thursday morning to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and tax evasion.
“Today is a day of both reckoning and reconciliation for the city of Dallas and its citizens. I am pleased to announce a major victory in the battle against public corruption,” she said.
Between 2011 and 2017, Caraway allegedly accepted more than $450,000 in bribes and kickback payments from Robert Leonard, the president of the technology company Force Multiplier Solutions. In exchange, he promised to and voting in favor of a program to put the company’s stop-arm cameras on Dallas County Schools (DCS) school buses, according to court documents.
Caraway also allegedly accepted money directly and indirectly from both Leonard and his associate Slater Swartwood for other projects such as the development of low-income housing.
Often the money was disguised as consulting fees or checks that were cashed at liquor stores and pawn shops. It covered everything from travel and gambling money to funeral expenses for family members. The complaint also says caraway used bribe money for home security - 15 cameras, by FOX4’s count - outside his Dallas home.
The court document states Caraway failed to report the money for income tax purposes. Specifically, he failed to report $97,000 from Leonard on his 2014 tax returns.
Court documents say Caraway made it clear he could be influenced, telling Leonard, "I am the city council."
Caraway has served on the Dallas City Council for years, most recently winning back his council seat in 2017 after being forced to leave due to term limits. He was the interim mayor after Tom Leppert resigned in 2011 and until now was the second highest ranking elected official in the city under Mayor Mike Rawlings.
“This case and the guilty pleas in this case reflect harmful and criminal conduct by both politicians and business executives,” U.S. Attorney Cox said.
Leonard also pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. He and Swartwood paid a total of $3.5 million in bribe and kickback payments to Caraway and former DCS Superintendent Rick Sorrells.
“The scheme to defraud and the corruption in this case deprived the citizens of the city of Dallas from the honest services of Caraway and Sorrells. As a result, DCS paid Force Multiplier over $70 million for the stop-arm cameras and the resulting licensing agreements. This program generated little revenue in return and put DCS in a position where they incurred intolerable levels of debt,” Cox said.
Swartwood and Sorrells pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy charges for the DCS scandal. Voters ultimately abolished DCS in 2017.
The investigation is ongoing and the U.S. Attorney says they are thoroughly looking at everyone possibly involved.
Caraway resigned from the council on Thursday. In his resignation letter, he said he felt the need to take responsibility for his actions.
"Over the past several weeks, through a lot of prayer and soul searching, I have decided that I must take responsibility for my actions. I have dedicated much of my life to serving others, but have never claimed to be without sin. I am truly sorry for that. I must end my career as an elected official because I betrayed the public's trust that I worked so very hard to earn," he said in part.
Rawlings thanked Caraway for sparing the city and the council a lengthy court battle, but ultimately said the city’s government will move forward.
“This city is so much bigger than any one politician who lost his way,” Rawlings said in a statement.
The Dallas city attorney said there will be a special election on Nov. 6 to fill Caraway’s empty seat on the council.
A judge will handle Caraway's sentencing, which is set for Dec. 14. Cox said she has recommended no more than seven years in prison as part of the plea deal.