DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Dallas art dealer Karen Manning took the stand Monday in the federal corruption trial of John Wiley Price, repeatedly saying "I don't recall" when asked about her 17-year friendship with the controversial county commissioner.
It was a surprising show of pushback from Manning, who in an earlier plea deal agreed to give "complete and truthful" testimony for the government, which has charged Price and his executive assistant, Dapheny Fain, with bribery and tax evasion.
After repeated questions by a federal prosecutor, Manning did acknowledge that she sold pieces of Price's African art collection, on "his behalf," at her gallery south of downtown Dallas, and took a $35 to $45 commission fee for each piece sold.
But she repeatedly said she could not remember when asked about other specific dealings with Price, including details that the government says she allowed in previous meetings with the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Atttorney's Office.
In her agreement with the government, Manning pleaded guilty to one year of tax fraud and faces a maximum three years in federal prison and a $100,000 fine.
However, court records show that penalty could be tossed if she does not perform well on the stand. "Manning will not be allowed to withdraw her plea if her sentence is higher than expected," the plea deal stipulates.
Manning, whose testimony has long been anticipated, was much friendlier when cross-examined by one of Price's defense lawyers, Shirley Baccus-Lobel.
Baccus-Lobel asked her whether Price did "everything possible to promote you ...He tried to help you?"
"Yes," said Manning.
Federal agents alleged Price laundered bribery proceeds through the gallery operation, and also failed to file taxes on art sale proceeds.
Manning agreed to testify in Price's trial. But during her testimony, she denied any claim that Price did anything illegal. "Has Commissioner Price ever loaned you large sums of money," prosecutors asked. "Not that I recall," Manning answered.
She also agreed when Baccus-Lobel said she was not there to "remotely suggest" that she was "engaged in any sort of conspiracy" with Price.
Under cross examination by Price's attorney, Manning said no, when asked if Price forged her signature or stole money from her. Manning's testimony lasted about two hours. She quickly exited Federal court without comment.
Price and Fain are on trial, accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for Price exerting his influence on the Commissioners Court to steer lucrative contracts to certain bidders. They are also charged with failing to report those ill-gotten gains to the IRS.
In other testimony, Linda Boles, a now-retired purchasing officer for the county, described how several companies went from the bottom of the list, to a top choice in lucrative contracts -- one to digitize records, another to maintain computers and yet another to provide phone service for inmates in the county jail.
The government has accused Price of helping those companies after receiving bribes.
The payments were converted into bribes by Price friend Kathy Nealy, a political consultant and lobbyist, without the knowledge of the participating companies, the FBI has said.
Nealy is also charged in the massive corruption probe and is scheduled to stand trial later.
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