DALLAS – A federal judge today ordered that John Wiley Price and his top assistant give up nearly a half million in seized cash that will instead be used to reimburse taxpayers for their legal expenses.
A jury in April acquitted Price of bribery and came to no decision on whether he failed to pay taxes on hundreds of thousands in income over about a decade. Prosecutors subsequently dropped the tax counts. Dapheny Fain, Price's longtime assistant, was acquitted of all charges by the jury.
In 2015, U.S. Magistrate Judge Renee Toliver ordered that taxpayers pick up most of the tab for Price and Fain's defense lawyers because the government had seized hundreds of thousands of dollars from them, severely limiting their ability to pay for their own defense. Had they been convicted, they would have never seen the money again.
But since they were not convicted, lawyers for Price and Fain argued in court Monday both had a right to get most if not all that money back.
Judge Toliver disagreed.
She ruled that the decision on whether taxpayers pay for a defense is based on a defendant’s ability to pay. Before the trial, Price and Fain's ability was limited. The government had nearly all of their money and assets seized. But because Price still had his $100,000-plus county salary and his car collection, among other things, Toliver ordered he pay about $90,000 of his legal bill himself, which he has done installments.
After the trial, Price and Fain's ability to pay dramatically increased, now that the U.S. Attorney’s office no longer has a right to their seized money, the judge found.
Here is what Toliver said she would order that Price relinquish to offset his legal fees:
- $114,000 in cash found in a safe in Price’s Oak Cliff home.
- $230,763 from the sale of a 9-acre tract in the 7000 block of Grady Niblo Road Dallas.
- $2,250 that Price had in his pocket when FBI agents searched him in 2011.
- $6,888 in funds Price’s lawyers had held for him to pay experts for his defense.
“I didn’t realize you were going to take everything he had,” said Price attorney Shirley Baccus-Lobel, who told the judge she would appeal Monday’s ruling.
Judge Toliver pointed out that she, in fact, did not order Price to turn over all he had. She said Price's county retirement would remain untouched. She also said Price could get back his collection of luxury watches, cufflinks and other personal items the FBI also seized from safe in 2011. Those items are valued at between $200,000 and $600,000, according to testimony in court Monday.
But he may lose some of those items again.
The final tab on Price's legal costs is still unknown, as the lawyers are still turning in invoices for work performed. If the final amount is more than what Price has already paid or has been ordered to pay, the judge could have him kick in even more money, possibly forcing him to sell some of his jewelry or cars.
On Monday, Judge Toliver ordered that Fain give up her share of what was in Price’s safe – about $114,000 – for her legal defense as well.
Price and Fain, both of whom were present for Monday's hearing, smiled and shook their heads as the judge ordered they relinquish the huge sums of cash the government had seized from them years ago. Neither had any comment as they left the courtroom.
Testimony at trial revealed that for years, Price did not report hundreds of thousands of dollars in income on his personal incomes taxes. This includes money he received from his top political consultant, who received payments from companies seeking lucrative contracts with the county; money he received from Fain’s promotional products business; and money he received from the sale of African art.
Jurors found Price not guilty of taking bribes, but could not reach verdicts on counts that he did not pay his taxes. Fain was acquitted of all charges against her.
Price collects $163,000 in salary, including monthly car and phone allowances.