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Jurors begin deliberating in case of developer accused of bribing 2 former Dallas city council members

In closing arguments, prosecutors say developer Ruel Hamilton paid bribes, but defense says payments were charity from an “extraordinarily generous person.”

DALLAS — Jurors on Thursday began deliberations in the corruption trial of Ruel Hamilton, a Dallas developer accused of paying thousands of dollars in bribes to two former city council members in exchange for their political support.

“That’s what this case is about – corruption – that eats at every aspect of our democracy,” prosecutor Chad Meacham told jurors during closing arguments Thursday morning. “The defendant has earned your justice, he’s earned your judgment. He’s guilty on all four counts.”

Hamilton is accused of paying former city council members Carolyn Davis and Dwaine Caraway for help getting his affordable housing projects approved, and for their political support. 

RELATED: Former Dallas mayor, council member testify in public corruption trial of developer accused of bribery

His attorney Abbe Lowell has argued that all the payments made were legal and innocent.

“Ruel is not guilty of any of these charges,” Lowell said in his closing arguments, adding that his client’s sole focus was being a champion of southern Dallas.

“Ruel’s reputation in the community was an extraordinarily generous person,” Lowell said. “He has a hard time telling anybody ‘no’ who is in need.”

“Just because a person has done good things in their past is not a defense,” prosecutor Tiffany Eggers countered during her closing arguments.

Hamilton is accused of paying Davis $40,000 from 2013 to 2015 while she was on the city council. In exchange, Davis, who was chair of the city’s housing committee, supported and voted for Hamilton’s affordable housing project Royal Crest, for which he was seeking lucrative tax credits. If that project had been approved, Hamilton expected to receive a $2.7 million developer fee. Royal Crest did not meet city requirements for approval, which prosecutors said is why Hamilton thought he needed to pay Davis to help get the project approved.

RELATED: Former Dallas council member Carolyn Davis boasted about how she would never be caught taking bribes. Turns out, the FBI was listening.

Eggers, during her closing arguments, also told jurors of a wiretap phone call revealing that Hamilton was worried that political activist and former Dallas city council member Sandra Crenshaw would dig into campaign finance reports and reveal Hamilton’s connection to Davis before his housing deal was approved.

“I call that a smoking gun,” Eggers said. “He was scared for a reason.”

Davis pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Hamilton, but died in a car crash in 2019 before she could testify. Jurors heard wiretap phone conversations of her boasting about the payments with another defendant, Jeremy Scroggins, who admitted helping her launder the bribe payments through a nonprofit, Hip Hop Government, while she was on council. Scroggins testified that Hamilton promised Davis a job after she left council.

Hamilton is also accused of giving a $7,000 check to former city council member Dwaine Caraway in exchange for his political support. At that time in 2018, Caraway was cooperating with the FBI, and agreed to record the meeting in which Hamilton wrote him that check.

Lowell, Hamilton’s lawyer, has told jurors that the money was for Caraway’s ailing mother’s medical bills. But Meacham scoffed at that notion Thursday, asking jurors to recall how Hamilton and Caraway discussed on the recording how they might explain the check if anyone asked about it later.

“If this is for Mr. Caraway’s sick mother, why is he offering to write the check to the campaign?” Meacham told jurors in his closing remarks. “Why don’t you write in the memo line, ‘Gift for Mr. Caraway’s medical bills’? … Nothing about gift for mama.”

RELATED: Strip clubs, dog tracks, casinos, secret meetings: Dwaine Caraway testifies about bribes he took – and was never charged with

Caraway – who Meacham described as “a prolific bribe taker, a serial bribe taker” – is currently in federal prison for taking $450,000 in bribes in an unrelated FBI case, involving a company promoting a school bus camera system. 

Caraway testified against Hamilton in order to get his nearly five-year sentence in that bus camera case reduced.

Lowell told jurors during his closing argument that Caraway “set Ruel up” at the behest of the FBI and prosecutors. He called Caraway a liar whose testimony is not to be relied upon. “How do you know when he’s lying? When he’s moving his lips,” Lowell said.

“Don’t let assumption or speculation substitute for the proof of corrupt intent,” Lowell told jurors. “I beg you to do justice.”

Testimony in Hamilton’s trial also revealed that both Caraway and Davis took bribes from two undercover FBI agents posing as developers seeking help getting fictitious projects approved by the city. Neither Caraway nor Davis were charged for their dealings with the two undercover agents, but prosecutors used their criminal exposure to get them to plead guilty to taking other bribes.

Hamilton is not charged with breaking campaign finance rules by giving thousands of dollars to other city council members beyond the legal limits, and writing checks in family members', associates' and childrens' names, all evidence of which jurors heard.

Jurors began deliberations Thursday afternoon.