Judge Says John Wiley Price Can Fight for His Money, Throwing a Wrench in the FBI's Plans
A new court order in the federal corruption probe into John Wiley Price tilts the case in the county commissioner's favor, maybe just a little, maybe quite a lot.
We all recall that in 2011 the FBI seized $229,590 from a safe in the Dallas County Commissioner's Oak Cliff home. Today's order by federal district chief judge Sidney Fitzwater, on display below, gives Price a little break on maybe one day getting that money back.
But there's a more important stinger buried deep in Fitzwater's order, delivering a significant slap-down to the whole federal strategy so far in the case. In denying the feds' request to keep the money forever and granting Price his request for a delay, Fitzwater takes pointed note of an argument by defense lawyers that the whole money-seizure thing, a civil matter, is being used by the government as a can-opener to pry evidence out of Price and others for use in a separate criminal case still to come.
The judge quotes from papers filed by the defense complaining about "the government's very clever use of the civil forfeiture case to prepare its anticipated criminal case (which goes back fifteen to twenty years)."
The defense lawyers -- Billy Ravkind for Price and Tom Mills for Price's longtime assistant, Dapheny Fain -- have argued from the get-go that the government gobbed onto Price's cash, then said it wouldn't give it back until he answered a bunch of questions. But the questions, the lawyers argued, were all about stuff that had to do with the criminal case.
For one thing, Price and Fain need the money to pay Ravkind and Mills. So he's in a big bind. He has to get the money back or at least have a shot at it, or Ravkind and Mills either ditch him and Fain or they shop for hair shirts and soup bowls and do it all out of love. But if Price answers the questions put to him in the civil matter, he screws himself in the criminal case. Say what you will about Price -- go ahead, I have -- we can all of us recognize a man whose private parts are engaged in an old-fashioned laundry apparatus.
This order, then, is a significant win for Mills and Ravkind, therefore for Price and Fain. It stops the government from taking permanent possession of the cash. But this is also the chief judge of the federal Northern District of Texas saying to the feds, and I deeply paraphrase, Hey, guys? We get the game with the civil matter and using it to crow-bar incriminating admissions out of these defendants for your jail-time case later. Forget it. Ain't gonna work.
A win for JWP?
And where does that leave things? Well, if the feds have tons of other good stuff, especially if they have turned other valuable witnesses, then maybe this loss is chump change for them. But if they were counting on squeezing the guilties out of Price with this particular ringer, then they could be high and dry.
It's a banner day for Ravkind and Mills. Now they don't have to go to Brooks Brothers and ask to see the hair shirt section. I'm assuming, perhaps unfairly, that that's where lawyers would start in their search for this unfamiliar garment.