The Perots Gave Willis Johnson's Wai-Wize Its Start, and It's Been Hot Ever Since
Digging back through old files, I can see some patterns emerging that I missed back in the day. For example, the connection between Willis Johnson, the luckiest radio host in the world, and Ross Perot Jr.
Johnson is a close personal and political associate of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, target of a major FBI corruption probe. Indications are that the FBI is focusing on transactions dealing with the Southern Dallas Inland Port, sometimes called the Dallas Logistics Hub, a major shipping and warehousing development.
A developer in the Inland Port deal has accused Price of sabotaging him after the developer declined to hire a consulting group in which Willis Johnson was a key member.
One of the firms hit with subpoenas in the Price probe is Hillwood, the real estate arm of the wealthy and powerful Perot family. Hillwood is run by Ross Perot Jr., son of the squeaky-voiced, big-eared man with the dry-erase boards who ran for president in 1992.
The Perots control Alliance Airport, a shipping center near Fort Worth that competes with the Dallas Inland Port. Johnson, a Southern Dallas radio personality, is head of a company, Wai-Wize, that has become one of the city's most prolific minority-owned subcontractors, with no-bid "third-tier" subcontracts at almost every local unit of government -- city, county, transit agency, school system, public hospital and others. Wai-Wize supplies these entities with a lot of things you might not associate with being a radio personality -- everything from security cameras to para-transit to archival services.
But is there a connection between Willis Johnson, Wai-Wize and the Perots? Sure. But you have to go back. Way back.
Lost in my files over time was the fact that Wai-Wize really got its original boost from the Perots. In September 2003, Perot Systems Corporation won a $140-million contract to take over all of the IT operations at Parkland Hospital, Dallas's public hospital. According to their own press release at the time, "Perot Systems has assembled a team of high quality IT services firms in the Dallas/Fort Worth area including ... WAI-WIZE I L.P."
The Perot press release described Wai-Wize, then still a struggling Dallas start-up, in grandiose terms, as "principally a Telecommunications Systems Integrator, formed to serve commercial, civil and military clients at both the domestic and international levels."
It was subsequent to this deal and with the Perot imprimatur behind it that Wai-Wize gained broad entree into public entities in the Dallas area, almost always at the "third-tier" level, meaning as a sub to a sub. Third-tier contracts are seldom if ever subject to open bidding requirements.
Third-tier deals, I am told, almost always come from within. That is, a person on the outside looking in at a vast complicated organization like DART, the regional transit agency, would seldom even know about the availability of such work. But Willis Johnson had friends inside. At DART, for example, he had a good friend in board member Lynn Flint Shaw.
This was the same Lynn Flint Shaw who, as head of the campaign fund-raising committee for former Mayor Tom Leppert, told Leppert in an email:
"Willis is the guy. He is the 'go to' person in all things southern sector and African-American. NO ONE AND I MEAN NO ONE should be going around and usurping his authority ... "In July of 2007, Shaw, who's since died, introduced a resolution for the board to approve a modification to a security-equipment contract that had been capped at $450,000. At her prodding, the board upped the amount of the contract to $708,615 -- the amount needed to cover Wai-Wize's role as a third-tier subcontractor, even though Wai Wize was mentioned nowhere in the resolution.
Contract modifications, or "change orders," usually are exempt from open bidding requirements. In fact, by the time you drill down to third-tier subcontractors and change orders, you're usually way below the level of public scrutiny. Believe me. I tried.
I asked DART in December 2007 for all contracts involving Wai-Wize. My original attempt to gain the information was unsuccessful, but in March 2008, I learned that DART chairman Randall D. Chrisman had asked for the same information. I asked for the same report he got, which DART supplied. It showed Wai-Wize clocking in at about $1.6 million in contracts at DART in a four-year period.
Multiply this same scenario by the number of government entities in the Dallas/Fort area, and you begin to get the picture -- a very lucrative picture, indeed, and it all started with the Perots.