A disgraced Dallas official at the center of a public corruption scandal that cost taxpayers over $100 million will serve no prison time.
Former Dallas County Schools board president Larry Duncan was sentenced Tuesday to just six months of house arrest and three years of probation.
Duncan pleaded guilty last October to federal tax evasion related to the money-laundering conspiracy that brought down DCS, the property tax-funded school bus agency he headed for 12 years. Two other crooked public officials have also admitted guilt in the case.
Between 2012 and 2016, Duncan accepted $245,000 in campaign contributions from the agency’s largest vendor, school bus stop-arm camera company Force Multiplier Solutions. Duncan admitted he spent $185,000 of the money on personal expenses and failed to report it as personal income.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn told Duncan at his sentencing that he was “lucky with the result.”
Because federal prosecutors only charged Duncan with one count of tax evasion, Lynn said she was unable to punish him for his suspected role in criminal activity centered within the agency he headed and instigated by his deep-pocketed donor.
The conspiracy involved a school bus stop-arm camera ticketing scheme hatched by DCS officials and camera vendor Force Multiplier Solutions that required city council approval. Before his election to the county bus agency board, Duncan served on Dallas City Council.
Force Multiplier president Robert Leonard gave Duncan campaign contributions at the same times his company was negotiating camera-related contracts with DCS totaling over $70 million.
Leonard also paid $3 million in bribes and kickbacks to then-DCS Superintendent Rick Sorrells and $450,000 to ex-Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway in exchange for facilitating the camera contracts and city council approval of a camera-enforced ticketing program, as well as related real estate deals. To hide the payoffs, the conspirators created sham agreements and phony invoices.
Sorrells and Caraway pleaded guilty to federal public corruption charges in the case.
The ticketing scheme never produced the revenue Sorrells projected, and hundreds of cameras were purchased but never installed on buses. The millions funneled to Force Multiplier under Duncan’s leadership of DCS plunged the agency into debt and precipitated its financial collapse. Yet Duncan continued to deny any wrongdoing and told local media in February 2017 he would “not stand for my reputation being questioned.”
By November 2017, Dallas County taxpayers were fed up and voted to abolish the corrupt bus bureaucracy—but they were stuck paying off over $100 million in the debt DCS left behind. The now-defunct agency still collects a countywide 1-cent property tax.
Though Duncan was only charged with tax evasion, Caraway claims Duncan called the shots in the conspiracy. Caraway was sentenced last week to 56 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution.
Judge Lynn said she sentenced Duncan to home confinement because he has serious health issues that would be difficult to treat in prison. Duncan was also ordered to repay more than $45,000 in back taxes and interest and perform community service for the City of Dallas.
Sorrells and Leonard have yet to be sentenced.