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].