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'Mere gratuities': Dallas developer convicted of bribing Dwaine Caraway gets sentence vacated

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that a federal court gave improper instructions to jurors, ultimately allowing them to convict Ruel Hamilton.

DALLAS — A Dallas real estate developer who was sentenced to federal prison in a bribery case involving former Dallas city councilmembers, including Dwaine Caraway, had his sentence vacated by an appeals court Tuesday.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined in a ruling that a federal court gave improper instructions to jurors, ultimately allowing them to convict Ruel Hamilton on "mere gratuities" when they found him guilty of bribery.

The appeals court's issue with the jury instructions was over whether Hamilton's bribery charges required evidence of a "quid pro quo," or an exchange of money or gifts in return for something. The court determined that the charges did require a quid pro quo and that Hamilton's trial court did not explain this requirement to the jury.

"The lack of such a quid pro quo instruction rendered the jury instructions unclear, as the jurors were permitted to convict on an illegal-gratuity theory that does not exist" in the bribery statute Hamilton was charged, the court ruled. "That is enough to justify vacating Hamilton's conviction."

The court ruled that the bribery statute "criminalizes quid pro quo, not mere gratuities. The district court’s instruction allowed the jury to convict based on mere gratuities."

As of Wednesday morning, Hamilton was not in custody, according to online records for the federal Bureau of Prisons. It was not immediately clear what would happen next in the case.

Hamilton was supposed to report to prison on March 29, but he was granted a delay to recover from heart surgery. It was unclear Wednesday whether a new report date was scheduled for Hamilton before Tuesday's ruling.

Evidence in the two-week trial last year showed that from 2013 to 2015 Hamilton gave more than $40,000 in cash and things of value to Carolyn Davis, the late former head of the city’s housing committee, and in 2018 gave a $7,000 personal check to former councilman Dwaine Caraway.

Both took the money promising to help Hamilton politically and get his affordable housing projects approved, jurors determined. 

Caraway, who was originally sentenced to 56 months in prison for accepting $450,000 in bribes from promoters of a school bus stop-arm camera system, had his sentence reduced by five months for testifying against Hamilton last summer.

He was ultimately released from his sentence early on Feb. 7 after serving time at the Big Spring Federal Correction Institution, 300 miles west of Dallas.

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