Witness: John Wiley Price sold influence for cash using consultants
DALLAS – Prosecutors unleashed one of their most potent witness against John Wiley Price on Wednesday.
Christian Campbell, a consultant who has pleaded guilty to bribery in the case, told jurors how he helped facilitate payments from computer firms seeking high-dollar Dallas County contracts to Price’s political consultant Kathy Nealy, who then paid Price for votes, favor and influence.
Price is accused of taking more than $1 million in bribes funneled through Nealy and a top assistant, Dapheny Fain, who is also on trial. Nealy will be tried later, and has pleaded not guilty.
Campbell testified that Price leaked confidential bidder information to Schlumberger so that they could win a $40 million IT contract in 2002, undercutting competitors. Price, according to Campbell, also helped a company called BearingPoint win a separate county contract in 2005 after the company paid Nealy thousands of dollars in “consulting” fees.
On cross examination, Price attorney Chris Knox got Campbell to admit he lied to pad expense reports, never paid money personally to Price other than legal campaign contributions and that Price strongly urged companies seeking county contracts to hire deserving minority firms.
But under questioning by prosecutors, Campbell was unequivocal -- he paid Nealy fully knowing she was bribing Price.
Campbell told jurors that when Nealy wasn’t paid quickly, or thought she was being cut out of a deal, she would become apoplectic and unleash a string of obscenities at him.
“She would make general threats, ‘They better figure out how to get me paid!’ ‘M-effers don’t understand!’ ‘I could make things bad for them!’” Campbell told jurors Nealy said.
Campbell also testified that Price, through Nealy, put pressure on him to get Camellia Kennedy, daughter of State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, a job with Schlumberger. Giddings and Price are friends. Neither Kennedy nor Giddings are accused of any crimes.
Campbell pleaded guilty in 2015 to helping funnel bribe money to Price through Kathy Nealy. He has a deal with prosecutors to get as much as two years off a maximum five-year federal prison sentence if he testifies about the bribery scheme.
This is Campbell’s second time on the witness stand in the Price investigation.
Last year, he testified in Austin at the trial of Helena Tantillo, a former BearingPoint executive convicted of lying to the FBI about paying bribes to Price so that her computer firm could undercut competitors and get a Dallas County contract.
Defense attorneys in that case argued that Campbell was a liar seeking favorable treatment on his sentence.
No companies have been directly charged with paying bribes to Price. Prosecutors claim that the companies did not know that money they were giving to Nealy was ultimately going to Price.
Jerry Kordula testified to this Wednesday. The former Schlumberger official testified that he did not know that Nealy was paying money to Price in exchange for favorable consideration in the bid process.
Had he known, he told jurors, he would have notified his legal department and taken action.
On the witness stand Wednesday, Campbell testified in detail about meetings, correspondence and conversations integral to the government’s case against Price.
His testimony was a primer, in essence, on how to cheat the competitive bid process and win lucrative, multi-year government contracts – particularly when your company is not the lowest or best bidder.
Campbell said in the early 2000s, Nealy was teamed up with a consultant named Eddie Hill. They were available for hire by companies who wanted access to Price and the county contracts he was influential in helping award. Hill is not charged in the case, but is on the government’s witness list.
After a while, Hill fell out of the picture as Nealy became the sole gatekeeper to communications with Price. Companies that wanted Price’s ear hired Nealy, Campbell testified. In turn, Price advocated for Nealy, cajoling companies to keep hiring her, even as bank records show she was funneling him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Campbell was told to also hire OC3, headed by Price friend Willie Dozier, to help "consult" with Schlumberger as it was being considered for the $40 million county IT contract. Dozier is not accused in the case.
Campbell testified to Nealy’s considerable prowess with Price.
She “had the ability to impact the contract, to get the contract canceled,” Campbell testified. “She would say ‘They better figure out how to get me back on contract.’ There would be negative repercussions for the company.”
“In your 15 years as consultant, have you ever talked to clients that way?” prosecutor Walt Junker asked. “No,” Campbell answered.
Campbell also revisited his testimony in the Tantillo case.
Campbell described how in 2004 BearingPoint was in the running to get a Dallas County contract to digitize land and other records for sale to the public.
Campbell said that when he learned that BearingPoint was not the lowest or best bidder, he met with Tantillo at a restaurant in Austin, where she was living, to figure out a way to get back in the running.
Their answer: Bring in Kathy Nealy.
“It’ll cost you,” Campbell said she told them.
Nealy was already on BearingPoint's payroll at the time for a $50,000 consultant contract.
Tantillo wanted to hide additional payments. She raised Campbell’s monthly $10,000 pay, allowing Campbell to give Nealy $7,500. The next day, Nealy paid Price $2,500. Price then got BearingPoint back in the running for the county records digitization contract, Campbell testified. BearingPoint ultimately won the contract.
Campbell summed up the scheme for jurors, under questioning by prosecutor Walt Junker.
“I believed [Nealy] had the ability to influence [Price] and get him to do things on behalf of her clients, that she was likely paying him,” Campbell told jurors.
“Why did you think that?” Junker asked. “Because of the things she said and the way she acted and different comments and threats and suggestions.”