8/1/2018Texas: School System Goes After School Bus Camera Operator
Former Dallas County Schools sues to recover millions from a school bus camera provider caught bribing Texas officials.
The school system in Dallas County, Texas regrets ever getting involved in photo enforcement. Last year, disgusted voters dissolved Dallas County Schools (DCS) after learning of the massive bribery scandal surrounding the school bus camera programs. Now the trustees responsible for winding down the organization are seeking millions in compensation from the school bus camera provider, Force Multiplier Solutions (now operating with largely the same staff and in the same building under the name BusPatrol). The trustees filed a lawsuit Friday to recover the funds lost as a result of corruption from everyone who advanced the scheme.
"Through the machinations of its former superintendent, Dr. Rick Sorrells, Dallas County Schools became the victim of a massive conspiracy that defrauded it of tens of millions of dollars," DCS dissolution committee lawyer Stephanie D. Curtis wrote. "This scheme involved scores of individuals, entities, and shell corporations that all had the purpose of bilking Dallas County Schools of more than $125,000,000 in taxpayer money."
Beginning in 2009, Force Multiplier Solutions used campaign donations and kickbacks to secure a sweetheart contract to operate automated ticketing machines on school buses. Instead of profiting from the program, as promised, Dallas County Schools racked up massive debt. The school system agreed to pay $25 million to Force Multiplier for the exclusive right to market and sell school bus cameras to other Texas school districts. Over the course of five years, the amount paid out to the company totaled nearly $70 million. DCS used a complicated leaseback real estate deal to raise the needed funds, further enriching the participants in the scheme with $45 million in unnecessary fees and interest. Sorrells and real estate broker Slater Washburn Swartwood Sr admitted their guilt earlier this year.
The lawsuit goes after Sorrells, Swartwood, Force Multiplier Solutions and all the various shell companies used to launder the photo enforcement bribery payments. The suit shows that former Dallas County Schools board chairman Larry Duncan received $210,000 in campaign money from Force Multiplier CEO Robert Leonard and from Swartwood. The cash infusion was tied to board actions furthering the school bus camera program.
"In addition to taking campaign contributions in connection with the stop arm camera program conspiracy, Larry Duncan also approved a lucrative severance package for Dr. Sorrells despite the blatant nature of the bribes and fraud that Dr. Sorrells committed," Curtis wrote.
Investigative journalists at KXAS-TV exposed the plot in February 2017. Ongoing reporting noted that Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway took cash from the shell companies run by Swartwood and Leonard, and his political influence was key to the scheme's approval.
"Mr. Caraway voted in favor of policies that benefitted Robert Leonard and passionately convinced the rest of city council to grant DCS a twenty-five year extension of the stop-arm program in 2015 in exchange for payments from Swartwood Sr," Curtis wrote. "All the while, DCS's losses related to the program continued to mount."
The suit seeks double damages which, if it were possible to collect, would amount to $250 million.