NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
DALLAS — For the first time in months, a major development has surfaced in the FBI investigation of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
News 8 has learned that federal agents, last December, intercepted a large payment from a local contractor to Commissioner Price in a transaction that government records list as an "unlawful activity."
It's an allegation that Price's attorney denies.
The land in question is 10 acres of vacant property on Grady Niblo Road in southwest Dallas, now in the possession of Henry Building Incorporated. The property is slated for development into a low-income housing complex called Patriot Ridge.
On December 15, 2011, the property — listed in appraisal district records for $200,000 — was sold by John Wiley Price for $50,000. Price bought the land 10 years ago.
On December 19, 2011 — four days later — federal agents seized the payment, calling it "proceeds of a specified unlawful activity." Federal agents are not commenting on what the unlawful activity is, or what triggered the seizure.
On June 27, 2011, federal agents raided the home and offices of Commissioner Price and two of his associates, confiscating assets and records as a part of their investigation into possible criminal activity.
The only clue as to what the feds are after is contained in a search warrant affidavit from last June. Among the "persons of interest" listed is W.O. Henry, a friend of Price and owner of Henry Building Incorporated, the company buying the land from Price.
"This is significant from the standpoint that you have a local public official who is clearly the target of a federal investigation," said former federal prosecutor Matthew Yarbrough.
Yarbrough is familiar with seizure laws. He says even though the feds are quiet about what crimes may have been committed, he believes they see that $50,000 payment as critical.
"What's not sealed by a judge about this case and where the government is tipping its hat is the fact that it's calling a proceed of a specified unlawful activity," Yarbrough said. "That means somewhere there's a crime committed by somebody that they think these monies are the proceeds of that crime."
Price's attorney, Billy Ravkind, said there was nothing sinister about the transaction between his client and Henry last December.
"Henry was advancing him [Price] some money against the property," Ravkind said. "He's helped Price out before. They are friends."
Ravkind said the land sale was nothing more than an attempt by Price to raise money to pay for his legal services.
Besides being upset he's not getting paid, Ravkind wants to know how the feds knew that the transaction was taking place.
"They knew about the transaction; they went there and they had W.O. Henry write them the check," Ravkind said. "They knew the amount of the transaction and everything."
Ravkind is preparing a response to the seizure of the $50,000 payment. Once a hearing is scheduled, Price's lawyer hopes to prove that the transaction was legitimate, and the proceeds were intended for him.