Don Hill's Latest Defense: He Just Wasn't Powerful Enough to Influence Deals

Categories: Crime
Lee_Hills_Merten.jpg
Sam Merten
What, them worried? D'Angelo Lee, Don Hill and Sheila Farrington outside the federal courthouse
[Editor's note: Jim's on deadline, and Sam's on vacation. So Trey Garrison's down at the Earle Cabell Federal Building and Courthouse live-blogging the City Hall corruption trial for Unfair Park today. Jim's back tomorrow; till then, take it away, Trey.]

Don Hill's defense attorney, Ray Jackson, spent the morning building on a main part of their argument that Jim so brilliantly summarized last week:
Vital got Killingsworth to concede there is a preference for projects that use these bonds, because it makes money for the DHFC. He finally got him to say that Potashnik's projects were more desirable because he used these local bonds. So now Vital has established a basis on which to argue that Miller, who received fat campaign contributions from Potashnik, paid back by putting Potashnik on this task force thing and putting him in a position to give himself a competitive edge over [developer and FBI informant Bill] Fisher, his former employee who had become his main competitor.

All of that goes to the defense's argument: How come all these black guys are on trial when the rich white lady who was mayor was taking money from the same guy, Potashnik, who is the accused briber in this case?
Jackson spent this morning picking apart the state's Friday witness -- longtime South Dallas political pull peddler Kathy Nealy.

Nealy is a government witness who, incidentally, was assured by the government that she won't be prosecuted despite her early knowledge of former council member James Fantroy basically selling his vote in exchange for security contracts. So there's that.

No big fireworks this morning, and Jackson meandered while staying on point which seems to be: Hey, sure looks like there isn't much difference between what rises to federal crime versus what's considered business as usual on Marilla Street.

One funny moment: Jackson basically arguing that Don Hill -- despite being mayor pro tem -- just didn't have the pull, power or influence to steer the city support to Brian Potashnik's project. Not that Don Hill will probably ever run for office again, but that wouldn't be the best ad -- your own lawyer saying you're a power gelding.

This sweet, self-deprecating line paralleled in a weird way when Jackson asked Nealy about how much pull she actually peddles: Wining and dining pols, doesn't she have better access? Can't she open doors for clients because of all her connections and get things done?

Nealy's guarded response: "We try to have good business."

A stronger point Jackson made: Hill's support of Potashnik was directly in line with city staff recommendations, and the city's bias for projects using local bonds since the city would get more revenue than if they supported Fisher's project, which would use state bonds.That, and no one at city hall liked Fisher because he wrote hot checks, didn't wear a coat and tie, and wasn't good with city hall protocols.

Basic strategy: Keep raising doubts about what's a bribe (what the state says Potashnik gave Hill and that Potashnik has pleaded guilty to) versus what's acceptable influence peddling and purchase (what Nealy does for a living, the contributions Potashnik gave to Mayor Laura Miller's campaign, the deals Fisher struck with Fantroy that he won't be charged with) as well as saying Potashnik had a better project and reputation -- and that's why Hill pushed Potashnik.

Not money or nothin'.

Speaking of Fisher, he was spotted in the court house this morning.

Allen J. McGill is up next.
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