Former Dallas City Council member Carolyn Davis pleaded guilty to taking bribes from a local developer, the U.S. Attorney’s office announced Friday.
AmeriSouth Realty Group founder and CEO Ruel Hamilton was indicted on two counts of bribery as well, officials said. Documents for both Davis’ plea and Hamilton’s indictments were unsealed Friday.
US Attorney Erin Nealy Cox told reporters Friday that her office has “relentlessly” addressed public corruption cases in the last 14 months.
“And today, the reckoning continues,” she said.
Davis admits to taking bribes while she was Housing Committee chair, sometime between November 2013 and June 2015. Her plea agrees that she took $40,000 from a developer for her assistance in getting an affordable housing project passed.
While Davis’ charges do not name Hamilton directly (he is called Person A), Hamilton is charged with two counts of bribery regarding local government receiving federal benefits.
Davis’ official charge is conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs using federal funds.
“In return for the money — plus the offer of a consulting contract once her tenure at the City Council concluded — Council Member Davis admits she lobbied and voted for the authorization of a $2.5 million development loan to fund the Royal Crest housing project, along with a City of Dallas resolution supporting 9 percent tax credits for Royal Crest, which was competing with another project,” the DOJ’s press release said.
On its website, AmeriSouth touts 14 projects in six Texas cities, including Royal Crest.
According to the charging document, Hamilton is accused of paying Davis a total of $40,000 and offering her a job after she was off the council.
“Mr. Hamilton allegedly paid out about a quarter of Council Member Davis’ bribe money — around $11,000 — in cash, often immediately after he withdrew the money from his bank account,” the press statement said. “The remaining 75 percent was funneled through a not-for-profit intermediary.”
The documents go on to explain that in the latter scenario, Hamilton would write checks to someone identified as Person B or Person B’s nonprofit, hand them to Davis, who then brought them to Person B to cash. Person B then cashed the checks and gave most of the money back to Davis. The identity of Person B is not known currently.
The charging document also alleges a second count — that Hamilton paid $7,000 to a Council Person A, who is not named in the indictment. At a press conference Friday, Nealy Cox would not confirm the identity of the council member, but said that the person was no longer on the council. She said DOJ policy is to not name the person, because they are not indicted in relation to this case.
She did say that neither Council Person A nor Davis have been on the council since August 2018.
Royal Crest is in Council District 4 — former Council Member Dwaine Caraway’s district. He resigned in July after pleading guilty to charges in connection with the Dallas County Schools federal corruption case. Davis was term-limited in 2016.
Nealy Cox said Friday that Hamilton sought for Council Person A to encourage an unnamed referendum with Mayor Mike Rawlings, and to help push through a second housing project in exchange for $7,000, which Council Person A said he needed to pay off personal obligations.
“What the conduct in the indictment and the information papers allege of a course of conduct beginning in 2013 continuing through 2015 for Ms. Davis, and through 2018 for Mr. Hamilton,” Nealy Cox said.
The investigation, she said, focused on the payer of the bribe and the person bribed, as many of their public corruption cases in Dallas have.
“I think our strategy and the strategy of this district historically has been to investigate both the payer of the bribe and the pay of the bribe the recipient of the bribe,” she said. “And as Special Agent in Charge Jackson told you we’re looking at everyone in this ecosystem because you’ve got pairs in a bribe — speaking just generally you’ve got payers a bribe, you’ve got recipients of bribe, you’ve got facilitators abroad, and everyone is gonna get looked at because none of this happens without all of them.”
“So we’re going to look at all of them,” she continued. “We’re gonna go after all of them and hopefully we’re gonna change it for the better.”
“I hope this case, and others that we have brought, sends a very specific message across the district — the US Attorney’s office will continue to be vigilant about rooting out public corruption,” Nealy Cox said Friday. “And we’ll dig as deep as we have to, to uncover the schemes.”
“The citizens of Dallas deserve better,” Eric Jackson, special agent in charge of the FBI Dallas field office, said. “If you’re a public official, do your job. If you’re someone who is thinking of using your wealth and your financial influence to exploit them, think again. If you’re someone who is facilitating these relationships, we’re going to look at you also.”
Hamilton has been active in local politics for many years, donating frequently to city council candidates. Just recently, he drew attention when donations in his grandchildren’s names to various council members totaled in the thousands of dollars. Mayoral candidate Scott Griggs returned those donations made to his campaign.
Davis is facing up to five years in federal prison, and a $250,000 fine.