Willis Johnson and JWP: Friends With Benefits, But Can the Feds Prove the Benefits Bogus?

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that string. Now everybody's talking about Willis Johnson. But nobody's got the connection.

Last week Brett Shipp of Channel 8 reported on contracts between the county and Southern Dallas political consultant Willis Johnson, and over the weekend The Dallas Morning News published several stories about Johnson's contracts with other local public entities.

They were all good stories -- well reported, interesting, good reads. If the stories were missing one thing, it's the same thing I've been missing as well in my own writings on the saga of Mr. Johnson: the smoking gun.

Johnson is a close associate of embattled Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who is the target of an ongoing federal corruption probe. Almost all of the contracts he has gained with government agencies have fallen under the rubric of minority participation "fair-share" agreements designed to help create strong minority-owned companies.

I will spare you the re-tread on all of the reporting we have done at the Observer over the last several years about Johnson and the way he gained his extraordinary access to money and power. As far as I know, there's a two-word summary.

It's political.

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What we have proved thus far is that Willis Johnson is a savvy businessman.
The existence of minority fair-share agreements in the first place is political. The fair-share process itself is political. A smart contractor with his or her ear to the ground knows which minority subcontracting consultant to hire. That consultant invariably tells the contractor to bring in Willis Johnson.

Why does Willis Johnson get to pluck all the plums? For one, he helps get establishment mayors elected. He worked for former mayor Tom Leppert. He worked for the current mayor, Mike Rawlings. You help get a mayor elected, the mayor looks out for you.

Forget all that crap people talk in Dallas about how Dallas isn't like the ward-heeling cities of the Northeast. Dallas is exactly like the ward-heeling cities of the Northeast. All cities are the same in that regard. It's not what you know, it's whom you schmooze. Schmooze pays.

And generally speaking, the public sector is less schmooze-centric than private business. Which brings us to the catch in the whole Willis Johnson story.

If the only thing the FBI comes up with is that Willis Johnson has one sweet deal in Dallas -- even a whole lot of sweet deals in Dallas -- then it will have junk, because it's not against the law to have a sweet deal.

You may think it stinks. I think so. Over the years I've listened to all the honest hopeful minority contractors in Dallas, who have all been frozen out of the Willis Johnson "inner circle" deal.

But it's also just business. Billy Ravkind, Price's lawyer, tells me he hopes he'll have some rich businessmen on the jury if Price comes to trial, because his jury studies in the past have told him that business people don't look on schmoozing as a bad thing. They look on it as the way of the world.

Johnson has some things going for him. He has a reputation as a guy who does the work. Carol Reed, one of the city's top Republican political consultants, told me she prefers to work with Johnson because he always does what he says he's going to do, and he brings back invoices when she asks for them. She told me about another well-known political consultant in Southern Dallas too. Whenever Reed asks that person for an invoice, the person calls her a racist.

So far, nobody has seen a smoking gun on Johnson. Clearly, if the FBI has come up with evidence of a money-trail, a string leading directly from Johnson to Price, that gun will smoke. But up to this point, all we know about Willis Johnson is that he is one successful son-of-a-gun. And that ain't against the law.


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49 comments
Judd D. Bradbury
Judd D. Bradbury

"The public sector is less schmooze centric than private business." This is an outdated notion that is false. The private sector runs much cleaner than the public sector. They have to. If we compared the 500 largest municipalities with the Fortune 500, I think you buy the Fortune 500.

BCulbreath
BCulbreath

I told you Willis Johnson was doing business with public agencies before they cut Leppert out of the paper doll book.Willis is an on Air personality and very well know in Dallas and surrounding towns.Willis makes a six figure salary and has for a long time with S broadcasting co.Willis Johnson company proposes, and performs all contract awarded .Maybe he's a victim of Friendship chicken pox. Willis has just not shown ,a hustler greedy, side to me.I could be wrongdon't think so but stranger things have happen.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

So, this all begs the question: When the illustious black ministers were out making fun of Harlan Crow as "Jim Crow" --in their attempt to paint him as a racist because he was against the Convention Hotel.....

They were what, working for Willis Johnson? It sounds like he is about the ONLY black contractor hired. Tell us all again how this otel will help South Dallas again?

Makes these men of God loo pretty stupid--or bought. So which is it? Are they stupid or corrupt?

4312howard
4312howard

No smoking gun yet. Worse case... Stricter regulation for "political business" on conflict of interests, contract/banking/committee practices and public disclosure (sarsbanes-oxley for political regulation).

BC
BC

The indictment will most definitely contain a charge of income Tax evasion. Price and others will also be charged with directly or indirectly facillitating,(Conspiracy) an attempt to extort money During the Inland Port Deal. All it takes to prove it is a few phone recordings and the testimony of one witness.

Arnold
Arnold

I got one extremely important question. A question that nobody can one-up. A question that has to be asked at this critical moment in time:  

"Watchu Talkin Bout Willis?" 

Paul
Paul

In one way, how is this any different from Jerry Jones shaking down Arlington for $350MM+ and Hicks and Muse shaking Dallas down for the AA Center ...

Not that this excuses any of them (Jones, Hicks and Muse) or the others (JWP, WJ, KN, etc...) ...

But come on aren't both groups just getting a piece of the pie?  .... Oh wait, we had an election for the AA Center and Jerry World, so I guess we picked our own pockets ....

Oh well, why bother to vote?

Ruth Ann Cook
Ruth Ann Cook

Maybe the untraceable kickbacks go fund the election of candidates, through intermediaries that influence the S Dallas community. (I might think the funds went to Kwaanzafest and to true help for needy families-if that money wasn't missing!) Or a kickback/slush fund could allow for the presentation of amazing, legal business opportunities, cars, art. antiques to be purchased. The money is not going to someone who will have to publically account for it. (Just using my first amendment right to brainstorm!)

ThatGuy
ThatGuy

So, so far, the only thing Mr. Johnson is guilty of is gouging the taxpayers of the county on multiple contracts? 

replay
replay

Giving all of the contracts to Willis Johnson, or any one individual, is a total corruption of the "fair share" policy. Sure, it is a great thing for Willis Johnson and those connected to him, but it does nothing to strengthen minority contracting........absolutely NOTHING!

Geo
Geo

For those of you not clear, Salt wanted their "cut" in order to make the deal work.  They wanted $1.5 million and then 15% of the project.  If the developer would have quietly cut the group in the project would have then been blessed and none of us would be reading about any of the  Dallas County corruption schemes.

Michael C
Michael C

And today's Royce West article ONCE AGAIN says that the SALT group wanted to "buy" a percentage of the inland port development. Why do they keep making that up? Is there any basis for that statement?

Alan
Alan

Just so I'm understanding the situation:  None of the Johnson contracting, Inland Port deal, vote buying, etc. puts money directly into Price's pocket.  Yet he has more cash and assets than his known liquidity can fund.  So the (UNPROVEN!) logical deduction is that the people getting the cash from those deals are funneling a share, unreported and under the table, to Price for setting it up.  And unless somebody talks or finds records, that's damned tough to turn such circumstantial evidence into something a jury can use to convict.  Am I on the right track, Jim?

Leo Bass
Leo Bass

I paid $22.85 for an iPhone 4-32GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $674 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, CentHub.com

SingingTheBlues
SingingTheBlues

I think Mr. Blue is really just a closet Schutze reader, disguised as a threat to Mr. Schutze and the DO, to muzzle his incredible reporting - DEMANDED BY HIS LOYAL FOLLOWERS AND SUPPORTERS. 

After all, its the only place in Dallas to get honest/truthful reporting! 

AintNoSunshine
AintNoSunshine

I believe Willis's problems are coming. Why? Because, how does he buy satellite equipment that cost 30k and sell them for 200k to the County of Dallas? What is that, like a 666% markup? Who in the world works with that kind of profit margin? Is that kind of profit, pay-back, pay-off, from county officials to Mr. Johnson? Its not against the law to work with those kind of profit margins if you find someone stupid enough to pay it, but in this case, it smells like some sort of pay-off for previous deeds. This is where the "hot box" from the FBI comes in and people start "rolling" to better things for themselves. Is it Incredible capitalism skills or just good ole corruption???  

Time will tell, but I have placed my bet on the latter!!! 

LesliO
LesliO

Rich businessmen on the jury?  Ummm, yeah, okay.  Good luck with thta.

Eric Blue
Eric Blue

No one has been charged, and no one has been accused of wrong doing. Ourorganization will monitor the course of this investigation and the related media coverageto ensure that the investigation and related media reports are handled with the highestdegree of legal, journalistic and ethical standards. Any leap to a conclusion in this matterat this point would be premature given that the FBI has indicated that the investigation isongoing. Any speculation beyond that would be reckless, and obviouslycounterproductive to the pursuit of justice.

Billy MacLeod
Billy MacLeod

Willis Johnson is a man who is everywhere he is supposed to be. I got to know Willis during the Leppert election and while campaigning in recent years I always knew that I was at the right event when I ran into Willis Johnson. He's a professional political consultant at the top of his game and I cannot fault him for swimming with the sharks. I do not see him getting indicted.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

It's going to be interesting to see what happens here w/ the JWP investigation, as they say in the african-american community, the chickens are coming home to roost..

Perry Moore
Perry Moore

Somewhere in that apathetic fog, you have a point. Equal opportunity apparently means that the white folks in their trailer parks and the black folks in their projects all have an equal opportunity to take it up the keister from somebody of their own race.

TrueTV
TrueTV

Which begs the questions: Who the hell was the Dallas County Official that did this deal with Willis Johnson? Who paid the invoice? Why was it not bid out? 

JimS
JimS

Worse than that, it reinforces the belief that the only way black businesses in Southern Dallas can get money is by sucking up to the rich white guys who control the mayor's office. Is it any wonder that the rich white guys who control the mayor's office want to encourage this belief by keeping the arrangement narrowly under their own thumbs? 

replay
replay

What else can they say as a possible explanation? Without this, it is a shakedown plain and simple.

JimS
JimS

It's bullshit. They know it's bullshit. Allen has said on multiple occasions that he offered portions of the deal to the group and basically said, "How much you got?" They never offered to pay.

Alan
Alan

We can't know what involved people say they said on that point, but here's the sum total of what their proposal document said about it:  "We recommend that SALT participate in 15% of the development opportunity.  The specific deal structure and equity participation to be negotiated."  Sounds vague.  But surely the sentence fragment is an indictable offense!

Jay
Jay

" Is there any basis for that statement?"

Damage Control. Spin. Propaganda.

JimS
JimS

Yeah. And I'm not sure that Price's assets are all that impossible for him to explain. He's a lifelong trader/swapper of cars and houses, saver of money, non-drinker, non-doper who has never been married. Somebody has to show money going from hand to hand, tit for tat as they say, in exchange of public policy decisions or votes. Otherwise, bupkis.

RTGolden
RTGolden

It's not that outlandish.  A general rule of thumb in establishing pricing for specialty or niche market merchandise is 5x's cost of goods.  If the sale price of the vans was 30k, manufacturer to Wai-Wise, what were Wai-Wise's other costs involved? Transportation of vans from plant to Dallas, Prep of vans, intake testing of all the satellite equip to insure it was received in proper working order, City decals, loss prevention accouterments (which don't seem to have worked, since the equipment seems to be..... lost), etc etc.I will agree that a lot of things about Wai-Wise contract with health dept stink.  the $6k/month 'maintenance fee' (which involves firing up equipment and making one satellite phone call, even the US Army only pays about $800 to make that one test call) seems to be where Johnson is really sticking it to the county.  Then of course, there's the fact that no one seems to know where the equipment is or what it looks like.  But the sale price itself, might be a bit high, but that would be the commissioners' fault, and ours, for voting said commissioners into office in the first place.

Steves
Steves

Hey Eric, F*ck you. If I want to speculate, I'm going to speculate. If I want to leap to conclusions, I'll leap to conclusions.  If you don't like it, pound sand up your a**, because last time I checked the comment sections of blogs didn't have "the highest degree of journalistic...standards"

And speculating wouldn't be counterproductive if we're trying to connect the dots, brainstorm, etc.  It's very productive to dream up what if scenarios, and then go look to see if those crazy ideas hold water. 

To me, it would be counterproductive to not question why some company is getting hundreds of thousands of dollars to program radios, when the manufacturer is in a position to do the exact same work. 

Billy MacLeod
Billy MacLeod

Is it your organizations opinion that reporting on an ongoing investigation is reckless? How about opinions and thoughts, are they reckless as well. As an organization made up of attorneys, what is your official position on the first amendment? Isn't speculation, by definition, a first amendment right?

IMHO
IMHO

What organization are talking about that will monitor the media? That sounds more chilling than any speculation you are referring to.

IWearBlack
IWearBlack

So we can just shorthand him as "Visa", since he's everywhere he needs to be...

Paul
Paul

Actually I am very glad that Jerry World ended up in Arlington and I am still p****d that Hicks and Muse got a huge subsidy from the taxpayers for the AA Center ... for the AA Center Hicks and Muse sold the naming rights and got their capital (and then some) returned and they have been laughing all the way to the bank ever since ...

The point that I was trying to make was notwithstanding the elections for the AA Center and Jerry World, there really is no difference between the two groups ... except one has done it within the constraints of the legal system and the other has not ...

I'll take a lot from government ... waste, sloth, inefficiency, incompentence, but I will not accept nor will I condone corruption of any sort ...

To paraphrase a beverage company: "Wow, we could have had a Kunkle!"

Metroplexual
Metroplexual

Jim,That is putting it mildly and diplomatically.  It's a shame that any minority contractor should have to go through "the inner circle" to compete for any job or bid including minority set asides.  I admire Willis Johnson for his business acumen and his stature in South Dallas which is 2nd to nobody. But, this inner circle gatekeeper crap is sorry for the city and sorry for minorities who don't need a blood sucking nannystate inner anything, just a fair chance to compete.  Maybe this works because there just aren't any qualified minority businesses in Dallas.  That's a logical conslusion on the surface. 

So follks who can get some financing but do not have existing business or a particular expertise can partner up with a politically connected operative and start a new business in order to fulfill a city, county or state minority contract.  Thus they hit the ground running and hopefully hire a few managers and workers and go after other business.  Many successful businesses were started with not much other than a gov't contract, EDS for example and I would guess the Wai Wize and other WJ enterprises with their "plums".Let's hope they grow into companies that can stand on their own, regularly employ people and pay taxes (oops).  

But if there are qualified, existing minority businesses that are left out because of notbowing to, paying off or giving equity, where are their protests and lawsuits?

Sorry for such a ramble to simply agree with you...

replay
replay

Agreed........it cheats other qualified minority contracting firms (AA, hispanic, women-owned businesses, etc.) from participating, UNLESS they have ACCESS to the political machinery also.

Guest
Guest

It's about time that someone pointed out that JWP's lifestyle is not extravagant. I find it odd -- and quite telling -- that so many seem bent out of shape about his material possessions. Now why is that, I wonder? If he's a better money manager than you are, then perhaps you should take note. The man make well over $100,000 per year, and he hasn't mortgaged himself up to his eyeballs just so he can say he lives in the Park Cities. It's called budgeting, folks! Try it sometime!

replay
replay

If the contract for the satellite equipment had been put out for public bid, Skyport (the folks who sold the equipment to Wai-Wize) would have likely won the contract since their price was $28k for the equipment vs. $162k paid to Wai-Wize by the County. Public officials have a responsibility to obtain the most competitive price when they are spending taxpayers' money, vis a vis, this is one benefit of "public bidding". The other benefit of public bidding........it minimizes kickbacks and other forms of corruption. Oh, and by the way, the man from Skyport interviewed by Brett Shipp, said the monthly maintenance should run around $700 a month (not $4k to $6k per month), so you're right on target.

Eric Blue
Eric Blue

How dare you suggest that I'm not the real Erik Blue?!  That's it, RW, we're going to monitor the stuffing out of you.  Get ready for the frowning of a lifetime.

Fake Eric Blue signing off.

Billy MacLeod
Billy MacLeod

Check you out, giving the man some credit. Platinum for sure.

Paul
Paul

That was my point, in both instances money is skimmed from public sources for private gain ... in one instance it is done within the framework of our legal system and therefore deemed acceptable ... and the other is not ...

Does anyone remember how John Ware quit as Dallas City Manager after the AA Center vote was passed and went to work for Hicks Muse, or how Mrs. Kirk was on the board of Hicks Muse and received about $100k per year for ???? ..... and that the former Mayor Kirk was a partner of the law firm which represented Hicks Muse while Mayor Kirk was mayor of Dallas ?????  If I'm incorrect, please correct me ....

Guest
Guest

There also is the issue of public disclosure.  Everyone knew you had to pay Jerry to get him to build his monument to himself in your back yard.  Then he let the people who's money was going to be spent decide for themselves.

That's a far cry from a politician secretely giving away taxpayer money in a backroom deal to line the politician's pockets.   

Guest
Guest

He owns a Bently.  His lifestyle is extravagant. 

All the money management in the world won't get you $500,000 in cars on a $100,000 a year salary.   

IMHO
IMHO

Ah .. ok. I don't know how they propose to monitor first amendment rights, but it should provide good material for future articles. I will go get my popcorn.

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