Judge Says John Wiley Price Can Fight for His Money, Throwing a Wrench in the FBI's Plans

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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.

See also:
- FBI Confirms: It's Conducting Searches of John Wiley Price's Office and Home Right Now
- Two Months and Counting: Affidavit Outlines Price Case and Sets Clock Ticking on Indictments

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.

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A win for JWP?
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.

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.

John Wiley Price Court Order, February 20, 2013 by

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28 comments
gollyrojer
gollyrojer

So, now they're wringing their hands instead of his private parts?

Delightful wordplay there, Jim.

epicmale
epicmale

Thank goodness the judge is going to let JWP fight for the money he stole!

lzippitydoo
lzippitydoo

They just need to charge this clown and keep the dollars that he has stolen over the years. John Wiley and his supporters keep on skating the system a-la-Craig Watkins!

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

What's changed?  Mr. Price still does not have the money and no chance of getting it any time soon.  In the meantime, they kept his lawyers working on a side show.  The Feds meanwhile have plenty of lawyers and can print their own money if needed.  That money will likely still be in a government vault when Mr. Price leaves prison in 10 years still in limbo.

ItsSoSad
ItsSoSad

Sounds more & more like the Feds will ultimately put JWP in jail the same way they put Al Capone in jail: using the IRS and claiming tax fraud for not paying tax on the 'found' money.

WORKS FOR ME!

mcdallas
mcdallas

Wow.  13 comments and no race-baiting?  Something must be wrong with the commenting system today.

On a more serious note, I tend think this act was a way of declaring objectivity by the judge. 

halldecker
halldecker

Another Judge keeps telling me the Feds don't have a case.  Theory around the Fed Courthouse was the Attorney General was waiting till after the November election before he filed.  That one has bitten the dust.

He says if they had a good case,  they'd have filed it long ago.

halldecker
halldecker

Don't be too impressed with Chief Judge.


That means he's been around longer than any other Judge who hasn't retired.


He handles most of the administrative issues in the Northern District,  which runs up to Amarillo.

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

We may never learn what prompted the feds to move on this case before they had their ducks in a row, but something did. Big government watchdogs, meet local government corruption. You may win yet, but I predict that Mr. JWP will win a few more elections first.

Guesty
Guesty

Jim:  "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."

Jim, I think you are reading too much in to Judge Fitzwater's order (it is dangerous to try to read between the lines on any judge's opinions, particularly Judge Fitzwater, who in my experience usually says what he means without hidden messages).  The judge had already refused to stay the case pending the outcome of the criminal investigation, and noted that there was nothing in the law preventing the government from moving forward with the forfeiture case before the criminal case.  This order it written with the assumption that discovery is moving forward.  So the government still might be able to get incriminating admissions.  The rubber will hit the road when the government files a motion to compel on the interrogatory responses.  

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

The point wasn't to squeeze answers.  That's lagniappe.  The point was to keep Price from being able to pay his lawyers.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

It would seem the mere existence of the cash in a home safe would raise enough questions on its own without having to seize it to get answers. 

Where did it come from? Is the IRS aware of it? People don't just save their pocket change to end up with almost a $ quarter mil in cash in a safe.

Anyway, this should be an interesting show.


epicmale
epicmale

@mcdallas Well, this isn't about race.  It is about a conman, thief, and liar.  Of course HE claims that everything directed at him is about race, but that has worn very, very thin.

James080
James080

@halldecker 

Theories likely started by Ravkind and Mills. I believe JWPrice and Fain are already gift wrapped. They're likely going after bigger fish now. BTW, has anyone heard anything from Kathy Nealy lately?

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

@halldecker

Fitzwater is an impressive jurist and about as smart and objective as they come. $250m doesn't go very far in these cases. Even if JWP gets his hands on it in time to pay lawyers before a verdict, he still has to explain where it came from and why taxes have never been paid upon its receipt.

lzippitydoo
lzippitydoo

John Wiley and his supporters have been fooling the market for many years! Even with the feds on him, the numbskull voters in that district keep him in office. In that area - he might even win when he heads to the slammer!

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

@PerryMoore

After 15-20 years the Feds should be ready.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Guesty

Fair enough, but the judge did take pointed notice of the Ravkind/!Mills argument that the government was "clever" in its attempt to use the civil case as a pry-bar for criminal evidence.

It occurs to me this is not an all-bad day for the other side, however. In these times, how often does the government get accused of being clever?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@everlastingphelps

But the winning argument in today's order was that the government was using the civil matter to squeeze answers.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Montemalone So I can cash in those mason jars of change I have buried around the yard?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Montemalone 


I guess that depends on who and where you are getting your change from - and how big your pockets are.

epicmale
epicmale

@James080 @halldecker Bigger fish?  Are you suggesting that JWP has turned snitch!  LOL...  Now that would be poetic justice!

halldecker
halldecker

@primi_timpano Ravkind does a lot pro bono that never makes the papers.  He defended the legendary Phil Palmer,  the man who invented bankruptcy law in the SW,  during a lengthy trial in Denver,  the jury out for two weeks,  not guilty.  Billy charged nada,  paid his own expenses.   He does some things just 'cause they need to be done.  There are some lawyers old-fashioned enough to do that.

ThisSpaceForRent
ThisSpaceForRent

@JimSXhow often does the government get accused of being clever?

They weren't being clever - they were behaving badly. Their argument amounted to the idea that since they found the money in John Wiley's safe, and that since they might someday file a case against him, and because he refused to tell them where he got the money from, it amounted to free money and the feds could then have that pizza party for the office that they'd been wanting. Without going to court or filing a case (civil or criminal).


The equivalent here would be if they decided that that Jim Schutze is a nasty reprobate and some kind of funny-looking hippy and obviously kayaks are the kind of things hippy reprobates use so they must be criminal. So if the feds just broke into your garage and confiscated your kayaks there's nothing you could do about it unless you proved to them that the kayaks in your garage belonged to you. In particular, they would demand the receipts, the owners manuals, names of the people who sold those criminal kayaks to you and so on. And if they didn't want to go to court, well, obviously you're a criminal reprobate and you haven't proven that you own those kayaks, so they might as well be free kayaks they found on the street and please go away now.

The asset forfeiture laws tend to be overbroad, and abusively enforced, but I hadn't heard the part where they allowed the feds to practice a form of randomized eminent domain without due process.

Also, the feds are still sitting on the money, so they can go ahead and go to court with the asset forfeiture claim if they want, but if they have no evidence that the money was illegally obtained *then* John Wiley will get his money back.

As he should in that event. It's not illegal to store money in a safe. It's not illegal to take your entire life savings out of the markets & banks and store it in your house in a really awesome looking suitcase. You can invite all your friends over and show off your money and talk in a funny Cuban accent or something if you want. Unless you have failed to report income/pay taxes on the money, or you got the money from an illegal transaction of some sort, that's perfectly legal.

max

['That's the part where 'innocent before proven guilty' and 'property rights' come in.']

Guesty
Guesty

@JimSX True enough, but context is king.  He wrote that when discussing whether Price was acting in good faith by not answering when he should have known the rules required an answer.  Judge Fitzwater obviously believes there is some aggressive lawyering on both sides, so he won't hold Price responsible for going slightly over the line by failing to answer in time in response to a lawsuit that is very close to the line itself (though perhaps not over it).  But I wouldn't assume this gives us any idea how Judge Fitzwater will handle the discovery itself.  

By the way, Judge Fitzwater views himself as somewhat a rules expert among the federal judges (rightfully so).  I expect when it comes to the actual discovery, he won't be swayed by optics but will do whatever the rules require.  I don't practice in this area, so I don't have any idea what the right answer is.   

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@JimSX Sure, but that way the judge can be subtle without upsetting the decades long "we'll starve them to a conviction" strategy that our poxy "asset forfeiture" system has encouraged.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

@RTGolden1 @Montemalone

Not more than $5k per bank.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

@everlastingphelps

Maybe not. There was a recent case involving accounting firms where the DoJ attempted a similar tactic: company, quit indemnifying your former employees' law bills so we can convict them and we, the Feds, will give you some slack.

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