A federal investigation into the personal and political dealings of Dallas County commissioner John Wiley Price and his associates has gone public, and may have taken a step closer to the filing of formal charges, as witnesses began appearing before a federal grand jury as part of what promises to be a lengthy and complicated corruption probe. At the heart of the case are allegations of bribery, money laundering, fraud and tax evasion.
The allegations against Price, a popular and outspoken community leader, stem in part from questions around whether or how the proceeds of 2009's Kwanzaafest - an event Mr. Price founded - were reported. At issue is an estimated $1 million brought in by the festival that year.
A grand jury investigation is not a trial by jury
It is important to remember that the empanelment of a federal grand jury - while certainly not an insignificant step in any federal tax crimes investigation - should not be taken as an indication that any wrongdoing has occurred.
A grand jury is an opportunity for federal prosecutors to present evidence and for jurors to question witnesses in order to determine if there is sufficient cause for formal charges to be filed. A grand jury proceeding is not a trial. Even if the grand jury in this case decides the prosecution's evidence has merit, this does not mean Mr. Price or any other individual accused of federal crimes is guilty.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, and defense attorneys are not present. That being said, attorneys who are well-versed in criminal tax proceedings know that there are many opportunities in the initial stages of a case to take proactive measures to prevent the filing of criminal charges.
The media may lose sight of the distinction between "grand jury investigation" and "trial by jury," but Dallas area tax law and tax crimes defense lawyers will not. This case, like many federal investigations into alleged tax evasion or other financial crimes, may drag on for years without criminal charges being filed - if indeed they ever are. In the meantime, we hope our readers remember that any target of such investigations is presumed innocent under the law.
Source: Shaun Rabb, Fox 4 News, "Federal Grand Jury Hears John Wiley Price Case," July, 2011