DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Nearly three years after prosecutors first charged him with bribery and tax evasion, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price is in federal court today, where his corruption trial has begun.
Attorneys have a list of more than 120 potential jurors to go through at the Earle Cabell Federal Building and Courthouse, where jury selection is underway. Prosecutors didn't begin questioning the jury panel until around 10:30 a.m. The defense will have their chance later today.
The attorneys are hoping to narrow down the list of prospective jurors to just 12 people who can fairly serve. Finding unbiased jurors may be particularly difficult because it's a highly publicized case involving a well-known public figure.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn addressed the panel, asking if anyone had an issue precluding them from serving on the jury. Some 30 people responded saying they had prior knowledge of the case and at least one person said he could not put that out of his mind.
Price arrived to court with his team of lawyers. Prosecutors allege he took more than $900,000 in cash, cars and land in exchange for his commissioner's court vote in favor of business operators.
Dallas County's longest serving elected official is accused of conspiring with political consultant Kathy Nealy, and his office executive assistant Dapheny Fain in a decade-long operation of taking illegal payments and bribes, by funneling the money through Nealy's consulting business. Commissioner Price, who just won re-election in November, denies it all.
Former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins said, "We're talking about a money trail. The government says it stretches over a decade [with] multiple sources, multiple companies, multiple transactions."
Some legal experts say the case against Price is strong. "The odds are stacked in favor of the government, because they don't indict a case that they can't prove," said Dallas attorney Victor Vital.
The scope of the case is huge. The indictment alone reads over 100 pages and more than 170 witnesses are named. Jury selection in the case could take several days and Judge Lynn told citizens on the panel hat the trial could take until the end of June.
Fain will be tried alongside Price. Co-defendant Nealy will likely face her own trial. Charges against her were separated from the others after a court ruling. She has previously cooperated with federal prosecutors.
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