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Corruption trial of developer accused of bribing former Dallas council members begins today

Developer Ruel Hamilton is accused of paying thousands to Carolyn Davis and Dwaine Caraway in exchange for help promoting his housing projects.

DALLAS — Jury selection begins Monday in the trial of a prominent Dallas developer accused of paying bribes to two former city council members in exchange for their help promoting his projects.

Ruel Hamilton has pleaded not guilty to a four-count indictment alleging conspiracy to commit bribery. His case is being presided over by Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn, who has handled several corruption trials in recent years involving prominent local elected officials.

Hamilton is accused of paying bribes to Carolyn Davis, the former head of the city’s housing committee, and Dwaine Caraway.

Davis left the council in 2015. She was killed in a car crash in 2019. Before she died, she pleaded guilty to taking $40,000 in bribes from Hamilton. According to prosecutors, most of the payments were funneled through a nonprofit, Hip Hop Government, headed by Jeremy Scroggins, who has also pleaded guilty in the case.

Caraway resigned from the council when he pleaded guilty in 2018 to taking $450,000 in bribes in a separate corruption case involving the now-defunct school bus entity Dallas County Schools. Prosecutors say he was cooperating with the government – and making secret recordings – when he later took $7,000 from Hamilton in exchange for political support.

In court documents, Hamilton’s lawyers have called the government’s conduct in the case against their client vindictive and outrageous. They have also accused prosecutors of manufacturing crimes. They also say prosecutors and FBI agents gave Caraway thousands of dollars to prop up his political career.

“During the government’s misdirected actions, both Davis and Caraway solicited Mr. Hamilton—Davis for donations to a children’s educational trip and campaign contributions for up-and-coming candidates, and Caraway for personal financial help in paying medical bills,” wrote Abbe Lowell, a Washington D.C. attorney representing Hamilton. “Now, the prosecution seeks to mischaracterize Mr. Hamilton’s acts of charity as bribe payments.”

Prosecutors have repeatedly defended their case in their own court filings.

“Ruel Hamilton energetically and gleefully paid bribes to Dallas politicians,” prosecutors wrote. They say he also made campaign donations to a number of city officeholders and candidates under the names of family and friends in order to subvert contribution limits.

Davis’s death in the 2019 car crash was a blow to the government’s case against Hamilton, as Davis was expected to testify against Hamilton.

But prosecutors have wiretaps to play for jurors.

And, they still have Caraway to put on the stand. He’s expected to talk about his dealings with Hamilton and secret recordings he himself made at the government’s behest of conversations with the developer.

Hamilton’s lawyers also allege that before she died, Davis intended to disavow her guilty plea and proclaim that Hamilton was, indeed, not guilty of anything. Prosecutors say she pleaded guilty because she was guilty, and that she was prepared to testify about her crimes.

Hamilton’s trial is expected to last about a week.