A Dallas County bureaucrat admitted using his position as head of a mismanaged bus agency to swindle taxpayers out of millions of dollars, enriching himself at their expense.
Former Dallas County Schools Superintendent Rick Sorrells pleaded guilty to accepting over $3 million in bribes and kickbacks from school-bus camera vendor Force Multiplier Solutions, in exchange for helping the camera company secure DCS contracts worth over $70 million.
Sorrells’ corruption, coupled with financial mismanagement, plunged DCS into “ultimately debilitating debt” and precipitated the agency’s demise. State Sen. Don Huffines (R–Dallas) led the legislative effort to shut down DCS, and Dallas County voters elected to abolish the scandal-plagued bus agency last November.
Federal charges filed Monday outline the criminal conspiracy.
From 2011 to 2017, Sorrells schemed with an unnamed co-conspirator believed to be Robert Leonard, CEO of Force Multiplier, and Leonard’s associate Slater Swartwood, Sr., to defraud taxpayers and cover his tracks.
Leonard paid Sorrells “over $3 million in bribes and kickbacks,” using various pass-through entities, shell companies, phony accounts, and fake invoices to avoid detection. Over $200,000 in bribe money was paid directly towards Sorrells’ credit card and student loan debt.
In return, Sorrells authorized DCS contracts with Leonard and Force Multiplier that included “purchasing millions of dollars worth of cameras, many of which were never installed on school buses and instead sat unused in a warehouse.” Sorrells oversaw over $70 million in deals with the camera vendor.
Swartwood was the middle man who helped funnel millions from Leonard and Force Multiplier to Sorrells. He was indicted at the end of last year and pleaded guilty to federal money laundering conspiracy charges, agreeing to testify to details of the multi-year conspiracy.
Sorrells admits in his plea agreement to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, in exchange for a maximum 10-year prison sentence and forfeiture of his ill-gotten gains – including cash, exotic sports cars, and expensive jewelry.
Sorrells also spent money on personal expenses, trips, and a luxury apartment in New Orleans next door to an apartment owned by Leonard – living high at taxpayers’ expense and committing federal crimes in the process.
As a public servant, “Sorrells owed a duty of honest services to the citizens of Dallas County,” federal prosecutors said in court documents:
“DCS and the citizens of Dallas County expected, and were entitled to receive, Sorrells’ honest services in his fulfilment of his employment responsibilities. It was a violation of Sorrells’ duty, and of DCS’s and the citizens of Dallas County’s rights to his honest services, for Sorrells to accept bribe and kickback payments from a vendor … whose contracts, agreements, and purchase orders Sorrells participated in awarding.”
Up until March of last year, Sorrells claimed the camera program was a success and the agency was financially sound. Then, as scandals surrounding the failed camera scheme were coming to light, the DCS board allowed Sorrells to retire rather than be forced out in disgrace. Sorrells continued to maintain he’d done nothing wrong.
But the damage was done. With DCS’s credit rating downgraded to below junk status and an FBI investigation underway, legislators and voters put an end to the taxpayer-subsidized bureaucracy. A dissolution committee is in the process of winding down the debt-laden agency.
Huffines said in a statement Monday that Sorrells’ guilty plea proves that he and Dallas County voters “got it right,” and they won’t stand for corruption:
“I am expecting more indictments and guilty pleas because the tentacles of this corruption reach far and wide. Self-serving bureaucrats and career politicians who think they are above the law should be worried!”
“There can never be enough transparency when it comes to government,” Huffines concluded.
The corruption and deceit of DCS officials are proof.