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Dallas real estate developer sentenced to 8 years in prison for bribery

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A Dallas real estate developer was sentenced today to eight years in federal prison for bribing two former Dallas City Council members, Carolyn Davis and Dwaine Caraway, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham announced.

In June, a federal jury convicted Ruel Hamilton, the president of AmeriSouth Realty Group, of one count of conspiracy and two counts of bribery of an agent of a local government receiving federal funds. Mr. Hamilton was sentenced Tuesday by Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn, who also ordered him to pay a $150,000 fine.

“Even as he extoled his own generosity, Mr. Hamilton bought and paid for his influence at City Hall. He used money to ingratiate himself to lawmakers, subverting the democratic processes we hold dear,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham. “As my predecessors have said, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will not allow a kickback culture to fester at City Hall. Our prosecutors will not hesitate to pursue anyone involved in public corruption.”

“Today’s sentencing reaffirms the FBI’s commitment to holding those who pay bribes, accept bribes, and facilitate bribe payments fully accountable. Mr. Hamilton learned that there are consequences to circumventing a system that is in place to protect taxpayers,” said FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno. “Public corruption remains one of the FBI’s top criminal priorities and we will continue working with our law enforcement partners to pursue anyone involved in this type of scheme.”

According to evidence presented at trial, from 2013 to 2015, Mr. Hamilton shelled out tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to Carolyn Davis, who was then serving as chair of the city’s Housing Committee.

In return, Ms. Davis – who pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme prior to her death in 2019 – supported Mr. Hamilton’s Royal Crest housing project, voting to authorize a real estate development loan and resolutions supporting an award of a 9 percent tax credit for Royal Crest.  Ms. Davis supported the Royal Crest housing project, despite the fact that it failed to meet the city’s enumerated multifamily housing priorities.

In an attempt to disguise the bribe payments, Mr. Hamilton funneled payments to Ms. Davis through a not-for-profit intermediary run by Jeremy “Jay” Scroggins. Mr. Scroggins –  who also previously pleaded guilty – testified at trial that he cashed thousands of dollars’ worth of checks, solicited by Ms. Davis and made out to him personally or to his not-for-profit, “Hip Hop Government.  Mr. Scroggins testified that he used $15,000 for a Freedom Ride Tour in November 2014, and cashed the remainder of the checks, turning most of the money over to Ms. Davis.  The councilwoman told Mr. Scroggins payments would not pose a problem, because people “don’t go to prison for $2,000,” according to a recorded phone call played in court.

Evidence showed that Mr. Hamilton also paid Ms. Davis directly. Over the course of the conspiracy, Mr. Hamilton forked over cash, and on at least one occasion he invited her to accompany him to the bank to make a cash withdrawal. At Ms. Davis’ urging, Mr. Hamilton also directed campaign contributions to a political protégé.  Further, Mr. Hamilton promised Ms. Davis a job once she was off the counsel.  Evidence showed that Mr. Hamilton paid Ms. Davis in excess of $145,000, once she left the council.

At one point, Mr. Hamilton became concerned that a former city council member was going through their financial dealings with a “fine tooth comb,” telling Ms. Davis, “she scares me.” Even so, he continued to bribe Ms. Davis.

Three years later, in 2018, Mr. Hamilton paid a $7,000 bribe to councilman Dwaine Caraway, who Mr. Hamilton believed could persuade the mayor to put a paid sick leave referendum on the city council’s agenda.  Mr. Hamilton hoped the referendum would increase turnout in the polls, advantaging his preferred political candidates.

Video admitted into evidence at trial shows the pair meeting at Mr. Caraway’s office on August 3, 2018:

“I want to do that, so… what can I do for you, right now, today?” Mr. Hamilton asks.

“You can answer that bill I just threw out there for about 62 [$6,200] today,” Mr. Caraway responds. 

“Okay,” Mr. Hamilton says. “Can you follow through with the mayor?”

The pair then discuss what Mr. Hamilton should put in the memo line “for posterity” so that “if somebody ever asks, I can come up with a reference.”

The defendant was instructed to report to the Bureau of Prisons in February.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office conducted the investigation with the assistance of Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tiffany H. Eggers, Joe A. Magliolo, Andrew Wirmani (fmr.), and Marcus Busch prosecuted the case with support from their appellate liaison, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen S. Gilstrap.

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