Saturday, August 6, 2022

There's a True-Crime TV Drama in This

Former Richardson Mayor Laura (Maczka) Jordan was sentenced to six years in prison Thursday for bribery and tax fraud. The government's story has all the ingredients of compelling drama, if it's a bit dry. I'm sure Hollywood can spice it up to make it a bingeable true-crime TV drama. I wouldn't be surprised if screenwriters were already shopping treatments of this story to Hollywood producers. The headline on The Dallas Morning News's story even suggests a title for the TV drama: "Not a 'Love Story'". Do you have a better suggestion?

Here's the verbatim material from the government's sentencing memorandum for you to adapt to the screen.


I. The Main Characters

Defendant Laura Jordan, previously Laura Maczka (“Laura”), served as Mayor of the City of Richardson, Texas (“Richardson” or the “City”) from May 2013 to April 2015. Laura was married to Michael Maczka (“Michael”), but the two separated in October 2014 and divorced on January 8, 2015. Defendant Mark Jordan (“Mark”) is a commercial real estate developer and owner Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 1 of 57 PageID #: 66433 2 of Sooner National Property Management (“Sooner”) and Sooner Management, among other entities. Through Sooner, Mark owns a portion of the Palisades Property in Richardson (the “Palisades”). Mark was married to Karen Jordan (“Karen”) until the two separated in August 2014 and divorced in August 2016. During his marriage to Karen, Mark had an affair with at least two women. One of these women was Sarah Catherine Norris (“Sarah”) who formerly worked as Mark’s business partner and held a 50% partnership interest in Sooner Management. The other woman was Laura, the former Mayor of Richardson. After a federal investigation developed against Laura and Mark for activities detailed below, Laura and Mark married each other.

II. The Political Scene

Laura platformed part of her mayoral campaign on a stance against zoning for or building new apartments near neighborhoods. Laura and her friends went door-to-door on the campaign trail and consistently confirmed Laura’s negative stance on apartments as well as her particular aversion to development of the Palisades, which sits adjacent to the Canyon Creek and Prairie Creek neighborhoods (Tr. 482–92; 1230–32). One of Laura’s closest friends testified that the neighborhood “worked very hard to get [Laura] elected” with the understanding that “she was not going to allow that development [sic] go in near the neighborhood” (Tr. 1279). As owner of the Palisades, Mark had hopes of developing apartment complexes on the property, which, in turn, would increase apartment complex presence near the Canyon Creek and Prairie Creek neighborhoods (Tr. 488). But the property was not zoned for apartments (Tr. 1392). On November 5, 2013, Mark formally requested that the City Plan Commission rezone the Palisades so he could realize this goal (Dkt. #233 at p. 8).

Laura’s role as mayor required her to vote with the Richardson City Council (the “City Council”) on whether to approve zoning projects, among other matters. On December 9, 2013, Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 2 of 57 PageID #: 66434 3 Laura and the City Council convened to vote on the zoning changes proposed by Mark. Hundreds of community members, specifically those residing in Canyon Creek and Prairie Creek, had expressed serious disapproval of Mark’s proposal to rezone the Palisades (Tr. 364). In their view, a decision to rezone would directly contradict Laura’s campaign platform (Tr. 361–64). Despite the public outcry and Laura’s campaign promises, the City Council—and specifically Laura— voted in favor of the rezoning, thereby allowing Mark to begin the Palisades development (Tr. 365).

On January 27, 2014, Laura and the City Council voted once again to rezone the Palisades for apartment development. Then on June 9, 2014, Laura and the City Council voted to increase the number of apartments that Mark could develop on the Palisades from 600 to 1,090. Finally, on September 22, 2014, Laura and the City Council voted to allow the City Manager to negotiate with Mark on terms for a reimbursement deal. The final terms of the deal indicated that Mark would improve segments of the Palisades in exchange for a $47 million reimbursement from the City.

III. The Personal Relationships

Behind these political scenes, Laura and Mark had begun an affair. Prior to the rezoning votes, Mark and Laura had privately emailed about the Palisades. Laura sent many of these emails from her personal account. On multiple occasions, Laura forwarded directly to Mark emails from Prairie Creek and Canyon Creek residents regarding the upcoming vote to rezone. Evidence of an intimate and personal relationship between Laura and Mark first arose in an email from November 11, 2013. In this email, Laura forwarded a constituent’s questions to Mark regarding the Palisades. On November 14, 2013, Mark responded at 4:30am, directing Laura to “[s]ee [his] answer below in RED. Happens to be my favorite color. . . . Don’t forward this to anyone. Just put it in your words.” That same day, Laura responded, “Ok… Truly LOL on that one! You’re fairly clever at Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 3 of 57 PageID #: 66435 4 4:31 am. I’ll read these responses and will obviously put in my own words. Since we’ve already discussed the fact that I have some interesting vocabulary words and it’s fairly obvious when other people are writing for me . . . .” (Tr. 897–1088).

On November 21, 2013, Laura sent an email to Mark, writing, “. . . good thing I had such a fun afternoon yesterday. Because last night the [P]rairie [C]reek mob hit me hard! You were probably enjoying barbeque and chillaxing. I was taking bullets for you! (smiley face emoji)” (Tr. 897–971). Karen, Mark’s ex-wife, found these emails and confronted Mark about whether he was having an affair with Laura, which Mark denied. According to Karen, Mark stated he was flirting with Laura only to get what he wanted. (Tr. 897–971).

The emails continued, and the content confirms that Mark and Laura were meeting in person. A private investigator hired by Sarah snapped photos of Laura and Mark together in public.1 They were seen sitting closely at restaurants and meeting in parking lots (Tr. 447–60). It wasn’t until early January 2014 that Mark confessed to Karen he had engaged in intimate conduct with Laura. This confession came only after Karen had tracked Mark’s iPad to Laura’s house at around two o’clock in the morning and then confronted him. According to Karen, during this confrontation, Mark admitted to kissing Laura, but insisted that he was not attracted to her (Tr. 897–932).

Despite Mark’s apparent lack of attraction to Laura, the couple took many extravagant trips together—Mark footing much of the bill. Direct and circumstantial2 evidence suggests that in 2014, Mark and Laura went to Salt Lake City, Austin, San Jose, Los Angeles, Laguna Bench, and 1 See infra p. 6. 2 For example, on March 11, 2015, Laura flew from Dallas-Fort Worth to Durango, Colorado (Tr. 612–39). A few days later, Laura flew from Montrose, Colorado to Dallas-Fort Worth on a flight funded by Mark. While there was no testimony on Mark’s flight records, the record from Laura’s flight reflected that a party of two flew together under Mark’s member number. Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 4 of 57 PageID #: 66436 5 Fort Walton. In 2015, direct and circumstantial evidence suggests Laura and Mark went to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Colorado, Beverly Hills, Atlanta, and Tampa. Evidence from these trips shows Mark often upgraded Laura’s plane tickets to business class and spent thousands of dollars on hotel rooms at these locations. All the while, Laura concealed the true nature of these vacations from her friends, passing off her frequent travel as “mayor trips” and insisting she was not traveling with Mark (Tr. 1251).

The expenditures did not end at the trips. Evidence also shows that Mark bought furniture and funded a home renovation for Laura in October 2014. Mark told the home renovator that the project was for a friend but asked the renovator to keep news of the project “on the down-low” (Tr. 1098). Laura lied to friends, family, and her then-husband about the price tag, claiming her father was paying for the renovations. Though Mark had apparently told Karen he was no longer seeing Laura (Tr. 897–932), Mark continued funding this project, never even asking for a quote and instructing the renovator to do “whatever [Laura] wants done” (Tr. 1096–126). When Karen learned of the remodel, she confronted Mark, asking why he was funding a renovation of Laura’s home (Tr. 897–932). Again, denying a continued relationship with Laura, Mark responded, “because, Karen, we owe her. We owe her a lot. She’s made us a lot of money” (Tr. 897–932).3

On top of trips and home renovations, Laura also received a job offer from Sooner. She accepted the position and began in March 2015, replacing a leasing agent who left the company having reached the ceiling of his salary range at $70,000. Laura, who came with less experience and no real estate license, received a $15,000 signing bonus and a $150,000 salary. Not once did Laura ever disclose to any City Council member or the Richardson constituents that she had a personal relationship with Mark, the developer of the Palisades. 3 When Karen later learned of Mark’s continued affair with Laura, she went to the media, releasing to a reporter hard copies of the many email chains between Mark and Laura. Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 5 of 57 PageID #: 66437 6

As mentioned, Laura was not the first woman with whom Mark carried on an affair. In 2013, Mark and his former business partner, Sarah, began seeing each other while she was in the process of divorcing her husband. Mark took Sarah on trips and bought her gifts. The relationship was, in Sarah’s eyes, “very serious” but it ended nonetheless (Tr. 1621). Sarah described Mark in the aftermath of the relationship as “threatening” (Tr. 1625). Mark indicated to Sarah that the Sooner Management partnership would be at risk if Sarah divorced her husband. According to Sarah, Mark worked with an attorney to “write up an agreement to give [Sarah’s] 50 percent partnership to [Mark] if [she] actually got a divorce” (Tr. 1625). Sarah refused to sign, and Mark’s vitriol seemed to subside. Sarah’s discomfort, however, persisted.

Still working as Mark’s Sooner Management business partner, Sarah hired a private investigator in January 2014 to confirm whether Mark was having an affair with Laura. Privy to Mark’s accounting, Sarah had seen out-of-the-ordinary credit card statements and emails between Mark and Laura. Sarah worried about her business connections to Mark if he, as a developer, was having an improper affair with a politician. The private investigator confirmed the relationship, finding specifically that Mark and Laura were communicating through a burner phone. This surprised Sarah, who had never communicated through a burner phone when she and Mark had been together romantically. When Sarah confronted Mark about the expenses tied to Laura, Mark (ironically) insisted it was none of Sarah’s business. At that point, and “knowing what [she] kn[e]w,” Sarah wanted nothing to do with Mark and Laura (Tr. 1657). On June 27, 2014, Mark called Sarah and admitted to having an affair with Laura. In October 2014, Sarah could no longer deal with Mark’s “improprieties” and “what was going on with Laura” (Tr. 1665). She resigned from Sooner Management and contacted the FBI. Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 6 of 57 PageID #: 66438 7

IV. The Prosecution

After Sarah’s phone call, the FBI launched an investigation into Mark and Laura. Through its investigation, the Government formed a prosecution theory that Laura, as mayor, guaranteed favorable votes on apartment development projects in exchange for cash, sex, and luxury hotel stays, among other items and services from Mark. The Government asserts that, during her tenure as mayor, Laura received from Mark over $131,722.53 in total benefits—the $150,000 Sooner salary not included. The Government charged Mark and Laura (collectively and hereinafter, the “Jordans”) each with Conspiracy to Commit Honest Services Wire Fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1349; Honest Services Wire Fraud under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1346; Conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 371; and Bribery Concerning Program Receiving Federal Funds under 18 U.S.C. §§ 666(a)(1)(B) and 666(a)(2).

V. The First Trial

The first trial lasted nearly a month. At the trial’s close, the Court instructed the jury to “decide the case for yourself,” and “not give up your honest beliefs as to the weight or effect of the evidence solely because of the opinion of your fellow jurors, or for the mere purpose of returning a verdict.” (Dkt. #153 at p. 26). Juror No. 11 had a particularly difficult time arriving at her decision, fearing that her vote would cause a mistrial. Shortly after Juror No. 11 expressed her serious reservations to the Court, the jury reached a unanimous verdict. The jury found the Jordans guilty on nearly all counts.

The Court later learned that a Court Security Officer (the “Officer”) had spoken to Juror No. 11 prior to the verdict. Finding her in tears, which he seemingly attributed to her role as a dissenting voter, the Officer told Juror No. 11 to put her emotions aside, not worry about the sentence the Jordans might face, and decide the case solely on whether she believed they were Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 7 of 57 PageID #: 66439 8 guilty or not. Further, the Officer told Juror No. 11 “that she should not be concerned about any punishment the defendants may receive” (Dkt. #169 at p. 2). If “she did not believe the defendants were guilty, she should vote not guilty” (Dkt. #169 at p. 2). The Court informed the parties of both conversations within twenty-four hours, filed a memorandum on the docket containing separate statements from the Court’s law clerks on these events, and made the Officer available for examination, on request. Defense counsel declined the Court’s offer and ultimately moved for a new trial (Dkt. #174), which this Court granted on May 2, 2019 (Dkt. #191). The Government appealed this decision, but on May 1, 2020, the Fifth Circuit affirmed.

VI. The Tax Charges

The Government brought no tax charges in the first trial. Though it had pursued adding possible tax counts against the Jordans prior to the commencement of the first trial—and before the grand jury returned the original indictment in May 2018—the United States Attorney’s Office (the “USAO”) decided it would not pursue the tax charges further. The Government asserts that doing so would have required approvals from the Department of Justice that would simply have taken too long.

When the Jordans filed a motion for new trial, the Government recognized “a realistic possibility that the Jordans’ convictions would be overturned” and anticipated “that any [new] trial setting would likely be distant []especially since whichever party lost on the motion for new trial would likely appeal[]” (Dkt. #363 at p. 40). Thus, awaiting the outcome, the Government “reapproached the IRS about the possible pursuit of tax charges” (Dkt. #363 at p. 40).

As mentioned, this Court granted the Jordans’ motion for new trial on May 2, 2019. Discussions about potential resolutions and plea deals ensued but were unsuccessful. On May 24, 2019, the Government relayed to Defense counsel that it was the Government’s “intent to present Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 8 of 57 PageID #: 66440 9 to the grand jury a superseding indictment including tax fraud counts related to both defendants” (Dkt. #363 at p. 42). On May 28, 2019, the Government appealed the Court’s order granting a new trial. On May 1, 2020, a panel of the Fifth Circuit affirmed the Court’s order and potential settlement conversations resumed. Again, these were unsuccessful. The grand jury returned the second superseding indictment adding the tax charges on December 9, 2020. Both sides made final efforts to enter Rule 11(c)(1)(C) plea agreements but to no avail.

VII. The Second Trial

The second trial commenced in July 2021 and brought further troubles. At trial, the Government examined FBI Special Agent Messer (“Agent Messer”) as part of its case-in-chief. During the Defense’s cross examination of Agent Messer, it became clear to both the Government and the Defense that the FBI had failed to turn over to the USAO a recorded phone call between Mark and Sarah (Tr. 2415–18). When presentation of the evidence concluded for the day, the Court instructed Agent Messer to find the recorded phone call and ensure no other evidence existed that the Defense had not received (Tr. 2416).

The following day, the parties reported to the Court that Agent Messer, while searching for the aforementioned recorded call, uncovered an additional recorded call between Mark and Sarah that the FBI had also failed to turn over to the USAO (Tr. 2462). The first call was made on September 28, 2015 and lasted approximately fifteen minutes; the second call was made on October 5, 2015 and lasted approximately two minutes (Tr. 2470, 2491). Sarah, under the direction of FBI Agent Walton (“Agent Walton”), intentionally recorded both calls using the FBI’s system and software (Tr. 2476). The parties played both recordings for the Court outside the presence of the jury (Tr. 2466–512). Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 9 of 57 PageID #: 66441 10

Having heard the conversations between Mark and Sarah, the Court determined that the tapes “clearly include[d] Brady material” and then recessed the trial for the remainder of that Friday, July 16, 2021 to provide the Defense with time to incorporate the late-disclosed recordings into its cross examination of Agent Messer and its case-in-chief (Tr. 2516–26). The Government also gave the Defense the opportunity to examine the Government’s discovery files at the USAO over the weekend (Tr. 2516–26). The Court denied the Defense’s request for a mistrial because the Government had not intentionally suppressed the evidence and the Defense had yet to begin its case-in-chief (Tr. 2506–17). Notably, the Defense stated on the record that it did not believe the Government had engaged in any misconduct, and Agent Messer testified that the USAO did not have either recorded call in its possession until July 15, 2021—the same day the Defense received them (Tr. 2472).

When trial resumed on Monday, July 19, 2021, the Defense used the recorded phone calls in its cross examination of Agent Messer, and the Government used them in its re-direct of Agent Messer (Tr. 2536–637). The Defense then used the recorded phone calls in its case-in-chief— specifically, during its examination of Sarah—and referenced them in its closing arguments (Tr. 2648–865, 3804–38). The jury found the Jordans each guilty of Conspiracy to Commit Bribery Concerning a Local Government Receiving Federal Funds; Bribery Concerning a Local Government Receiving Federal Funds; Conspiracy to Defraud the United States; and two counts of Aiding or Assisting in Preparation of False Documents Under Internal Revenue Laws. The jury found the Jordans not guilty of Conspiracy to Commit Honest Services Wire Fraud; and not guilty of Honest Services Wire Fraud (Dkts. #157–58).

VIII. The Current Procedural Posture

On September 16, 2021, the Government filed a Motion for Findings and Conclusions Case 4:18-cr-00087-ALM-CAN Document 403 Filed 08/03/22 Page 10 of 57 PageID #: 66442 11 Regarding Disclosure of Recorded Calls (Dkt. #335), urging this Court to hold that the Government did not violate Brady during the second trial. On September 30, 2021, the Jordans responded (Dkt. #341). On October 14, 2021, the Jordans filed three post-verdict motions: Defendants’ Post-Verdict Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Judgment of Acquittal or for New Trial (Dkt. #347); Defendants’ Post-Verdict Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Judgment of Acquittal or for New Trial (Dkt. #348); and Defendants’ Post-Verdict Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Judgment of Acquittal or for New Trial (Dkt. #352). The Government filed an omnibus response on December 20, 2021 (Dkt. #363). The Jordans replied on January 17, 2022 (Dkt. #373). The Jordans’ sentencing is set for August 4, 2022.

However, on July 20, 2022, the Jordans filed a Motion to Stay this Court’s Ruling on Their Rule 33 Motion for a New Trial and to Postpone Sentencing Hearing (Dkt. #389) in light of the Fifth Circuit’s reconsideration of its order denying bail pending appeal in United States v. Hamilton, No. 21-22257 (Case No. 3:19-cr-83 N.D. Tex.). After oral arguments in Hamilton, the Fifth Circuit revisited the aforementioned order and decided to grant the defendant-appellant’s request, finding that he had raised “significant questions of first impression in this circuit: namely, whether § 666 covers mere gratuities or unofficial acts, and if so, whether his conviction is constitutional in light of certain Supreme Court decisions.” Id. The Government responded to this motion on July 27, 2022 (Dkt. #391). For all the reasons discussed below, the Court denies each of the motions under consideration here and will sentence the Jordans on August 4, 2022 as scheduled.


Alan North said...

Unfortunately, this was the unintended byproduct of the first directly elected mayor of Richardson. We got the most corrupt mayor and city council in Richardson’s history. And technically the only directly elected mayor of Richardson because the current mayor was cleverly handed the title by Laura. The entire so called current elected city government ought to be challenged and replaced next year by non-politians.

Alan North

Sassy Texan said...

Correct Alan North. One of the things said in court by the defense attorney was that blogging & and the interest had Laura wearing a "Scarlet A" for four years in Richardson. Do you recall the slandering to Amir over child support was driving in with a butcher knife. Laura was ok with that. As were the others in the political elite in Richardson. The Judge did comment that he felt Jordan manipulated Laura. As the defense were talking this Love story, the Judge responded with "That may be true today, but the jury did not believe you."
We could add the fake ethics investigation by George Staples based on a terrible ethics ordinance that found no evidence of impropriety. That was a meeting few will ever forget in Richardson.


Alan North said...

“We could add the fake ethics investigation by George Staples based on a terrible ethics ordinance that found no evidence of impropriety.”
Agreed, Cheri! That fake kangaroo court found no wrong doing. It would be comical if not unconscionable. The old guard political establishment ‘club’ in Richardson is a complete disservice to the citizens of Richardson, Texas.