DCS Superintendent guilty in school bus camera scheme

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Former Dallas County Schools Superintendent Rick Sorrells pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges Monday, agreeing to a sentence that could reach 10 years. He also agreed to testify in the case that implicates several others, including the CEO of a company that sold $70 million worth of school bus cameras to the district, some of which were never used.

Sorrells also agreed to forfeit property that includes a 2014 Maserati, a 2012 Porsche Cayenne and $66,000 worth of jewelry — including a custom made gold bracelet inlaid with 51 high quality diamonds.

The plea from Sorrells, who resigned in March 2017 and was paid his $217,667 salary through the end of the year, is part of an FBI investigation into a widespread scheme to sell cameras to both DCS and other districts.

His six-figure resignation deal and contracts are here:

 

The bribes and kickbacks Sorrells received were “funneled through various pass-through companies operated by Slater Swartwood Sr., and an unnamed law firm,” according to a report from the NBC affiliate in Dallas, which has led coverage of the plot.

Swartwood is a former employee of school bus camera company, Force Multiplier Solutions, unnamed in federal documents but identified in news reports as the company referred to by the feds. Swartwood pleaded guilty to money laundering charges in December and is cooperating with law enforcement.

The case connects Sorrells to Swartwood via a kickback plan that involved contracts and favors for friends. DSC in 2010 contracted with Force Multiplier for the bus cameras. Prosecutors say that Sorrells opened shell companies in the name of family members to push the bribe money through.

A federal complaint charging Swartwood said the bus camera company, “sold cameras and related services for school buses…entered into various contracts and a licensing agreement with a Texas state agency acting through its superintendent…”

 

The indictment of Sorrells, filed yesterday at the same time as Sorrells’ plea, alleges that Sorrells received more than $3 million in bribes and kickbacks.

 

“In return, Sorrells, acting on behalf of DCS [purchased] millions of dollars worth of cameras, many of which were never installed on school buses and instead sat unused in a warehouse.” The complaint also contends that Sorrells entered into a $340,000 a month servicing agreement for the equipment.

 

Members of the Dallas City Council in 2012, extended an agreement for the camera program with DCS — which is not a school district but designed to provide school bus services to area school districts — for 25 years.

The cost to put the camera on each bus was $10,000, Sorrels told the council during the hearing. They were put on all 1,600 of the buses — a total outlay of $16 million.

“Have we recovered the cost, through fines, to pay for that yet?” council member Tennell Atkins asked Sorrels.

“We have not,” Sorrels said. He was adamant that the deal be pushed through, as were several other council members.

According to this week’s indictment, Sorrells was at the time in the second year of his kickback deal. Voters in November elected to close DCS.

Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].

41 COMMENTS

  1. Let me point out here, for all of you relating this to schools: Despite the name, Dallas County Schools is not a school district. They employ no teachers and teach zero kids. They are a (soon to be nonexistent) government entity that provides bus service to several area school districts. When Texas went from having county school districts to having ISDs several decades ago, two county school districts (Dallas and Harris) continued to exist providing services to districts as a paid co-op. Sorrells is not a school superintendent, despite the misleading title. He’s more like a CEO.

  2. Yup, gotta get those drivers that don’t stop at the school bus student drop off and crossings. . Sadly every buss across the USA needs this. . So many people that don’t give a dam, running and hitting kids with their vehicles. Buss drivers have gone to an extent to parking all across the street because people don’t care to stop and wait for babies to cross the street. . .sadly the Buss drivers have gotten in trouble for trying to save their passengers

    • David Chenoweth did you even read the story? He was getting money (several million dollars plus almost $150k per month for making sure the School Bus Cameras intended to protect school bus riders were protected from drivers that refuse to stop for school busses unloading students) from a specific company to make sure the camera, etc …. were bought from them. It was all about protecting students!

  3. Thanks Lana! They need to look into districts that have passed large bond programs, contributions of vendors toward passage,and contracts awarded after passage. They could start with districts that have changed Supts. since the bond program passed!

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