Pulse

Michael Hinojosa gets it done at DISD, AIS may be to blame (again), and a Richardson J.J. Pearce alum hits it big in Hollywood. PLUS: we rename North Texas!

Photo by Tadd Myers

School Is In

“Beleaguered” doesn’t really begin to describe it. DISD has been a rat’s nest of corruption, infighting, and underachievement. But the turnaround has begun. Going into his second school year, superintendent MICHAEL HINOJOSA is standing tall. He showed up early for his first day on the job, before his contract even started. He slashed fat at 3700 Ross, voluntarily giving up his own $1,000-a month car allowance. As problems have arisen—a top administrator on the take, a wasteful contract with FedEx/Kinko’s, employees abusing credit cards—Hinojosa has dealt with them swiftly. His vision of the future appears just as keen. The just-announced Dallas Education Foundation is populated with an all-star roster of civic leaders—Ron Kirk, Adelfa Callejo, Jim Keyes, Don Williams, Lee Jackson. With their help, Hinojosa aims to make DISD the best urban school district in the nation by 2010. An even loftier goal, he plans to be here when it happens. “I’ve been here 14 months, and I’ve already passed the tenure of eight other superintendents,” says the Sunset High grad. “I know I’m not going to catch W.T. White. He was here 22 years. The rest of them might be in reach. This is my dream job, absolutely. Despite the challenges, man, shoot, I get up every day fired up about going to work.” —TIM ROGERS

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WANTED: Ulric Sweesy allegedly bilked investors out of $150 million. Photo courtesy Grand Prairie Police Department

The Punctual Fugitive
A computer glitch gave him a virtual “get out of jail free” card. But, to everyone’s surprise, he hasn’t run—yet.

No one thought alleged conman Ulric Sweesy would show for his criminal court hearing. Why would he? The former racehorse owner had been indicted in Grand Prairie for passing $200,000 in bad checks at Lone Star Park. What’s more, he was also accused of, but never charged with, stealing $150 million in an oil scam that investors now call a classic Ponzi scheme. For seven months, Sweesy had been on the lam. He was finally captured in Las Vegas, in May, and extradited to Dallas.

That’s when Magistrate Candace Carlsen set his bail at the low, low sum of $5,000,and Sweesy again walked free. At the time, the head of the DA’s bank fraud division, Nick Cariotis, told the Dallas Morning News, “I can’t believe this.”And that was the last anyone thought they’d ever see of Ulric Sweesy.

If all had gone as it should have, Sweesy would have wound up in the Dallas County jail under a much higher $200,000 bond, given his flight risk. But that didn’t happen,it appears,because of the county’s flawed Adult Information System (AIS). The story of the $6 million computer-tracking system that has a habit of losing many of the 80,000 inmates at the jail is old news. (See “The Schemer,” D Magazine, February 2006.) But the mistakes continue. AIS spat out incomplete information, leading Magistrate Carlsen to issue the lower bond, rather than the $200,000 the Dallas DA had requested. Reading the AIS data, Carlsen knew only of Sweesy’s bad checks, not about the allegedly swindled millions.

Weird thing is, although Sweesy could have flown the coop cheaply, he showed up for his court hearing July 17. In yet another twist, it was postponed, because District Court Judge Robert Francis was in trial elsewhere. As of press time, another court hearing was scheduled for August 4.The DA’s office says it plans to ask for a significantly raised bond. —TREY GARRISON

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Snap Judgments

 

Photo by Richard Michael Pruitt/DMN

THUMBS UP: Dallas County Criminal Court Judge Janice Warder roots out injustice, even when it’s outside her courtroom. Mark Miller of Dallas recently accepted a job in Houston as general manager with a health-care company. But when HR ran a background check, another Mark Miller living in Dallas with the same birth date showed a long criminal history. Miller’s job offer was rescinded. No one would help him, until he wrote Judge Warder a letter. She ordered fingerprints and kept after the sheriff’s department to clear Miller’s name. “She didn’t have to do any of this,” Miller says. Today, he is no longer a felon.

Photo by John Zak/DMN

THUMBS DOWN: The Dallas Morning News recently offered severance packages to any staffer who would leave. Steve Blow should have taken one. The latest demonstration of the columnist’s ineptitude came after the El Angel shootings downtown. Blow blamed the murders on a song the rival gangs heard in the club that night, Lil’ Jon’s “Put Yo’ Hood Up.” Blow wrote, “This time the link between the music and the deed is irrefutable.” Fellow columnist James Ragland lashed out at Blow two days later. “Rap music isn’t the real culprit here,” he wrote; a disrespect for human life is. Buttressing Ragland’s argument was a story the News ran seven days later: the club’s DJ said he never played the song in question.

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Step Right Up! Put a Cap in Keith Davis! Three Shots a Dollar!

At 5 AM on July 16, Cowboys safety Keith Davis was shot twice while driving his Chevy Impala on I-635. Davis, who made a full recovery, initially claimed he was en route to church, returning from a family visit to Louisiana. He later admitted he had just left a party with other NFL players. At press time, he was sticking to the church story. In any case, these were the third and fourth bullets to find their way to Davis. In 2003, he was shot twice in the parking lot of a topless bar.

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COUGH, COUGH: The American Lung Association says we’re the eighth most polluted city in the nation. Photo by Tom Fox/DMN

The Air in Dallas Is So Bad …
How bad is it? By 2009, we could be hit by the feds with $400 million in sanctions. These and other scary truths (because they’re more than inconvenient).

60 to 70 Calls a Week.
Children’s Medical Center at Dallas is among the three busiest pediatric emergency rooms in the nation. One of the top reasons for admittance is asthma attacks. Cases spike in the days following ozone alerts, because kids are especially susceptible to bad air. It’s so bad that Children’s now has an entire asthma wing. Dr.William Neaville, an allergy and immunology specialist at Children’s, says he gets 60 to 70 calls a week from new asthma and allergy patients.

23 Ozone Alerts and the Season’s Nowhere Near Finished.
In late July, the Dallas-Fort Worth region had 23 days of high ozone alerts. That’s one more than we had last year at this time—and 18 more than we had by this time in 2004. In all of 2005,we had 44 days of high ozone. For that, we received an “F” from the American Lung Association. Expect a similar grade this year.

Sanctions of $400 Million a Year.
Kathleen Hartnett White, chairwoman of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, says there’s no way North Texas can meet the 2009 air quality standards imposed by the EPA.And because we can’t,we could see our federal transportation dollars withheld, to the tune of $400 million a year. So kiss goodbye road repair and construction.

20 Percent of the Cars Cause 80 percent of the Problem.
Our bad air is cause by lots of things. But more than the cement kilns,more than the construction vehicles, our bad air is caused by the cars we drive.“Twenty percent of the cars cause 80 percent of the problem,” says Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher. These are older vehicles,ones that can’t pass a yearly inspection. Keliher recently began a pilot program in Grand Prairie to pull over people with fake inspection stickers and impound their cars. In three months, Dallas County justices of the peace found 300 in Grand Prairie alone.

Texas Steals 87 Percent of Dallas County’s Clean Air Dollars.
The American Lung Association says we are the eighth most polluted city in the nation. But do our state legislators care? Here is the best example of negligence. Of the local money collected on vehicle inspections, Dallas County is supposed to receive $15 million to spend on clean-air programs. But the state keeps $13 million of that for itself—to balance its budget. This comes during a year when Gov. Rick Perry boasts of a $8.2 billion budget surplus. PAUL KIX

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The Man Who Would Save Internet Gambling

On July 16, federal authorities arrested David Carruthers, the British CEO of online gambling site BetOnSports, while he was on a layover at DFW Airport. He and his firm (which later sacked him) are at the center of an international story with billions of dollars at stake. In the thick of it all is Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer Tim Evans.

When Carruthers’ people went looking for representation—the best money could buy—they found Evans. We caught up with the drawling, soft-spoken attorney a week into the case, with media attention growing.

“The damn BBC called me at 1:30 last night,” he says. “They lied to my answering service and said it was an emergency. So I e-mailed them back and said it’s not likely that I’ll be talking to the BBC anymore.”

From breadmaker Carroll Baird to pitcher Kenny Rogers, Evans is known to represent high-profile clients. It wasn’t clear whether Evans would keep Carruthers as a client, though. The former executive was slated to be shipped to St. Louis, whence his federal indictment originated.

“I may stay with the case,” Evans says. “I haven’t decided and neither have they. It’s a fascinating case.” —TIM ROGERS

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Breaking Out
Lane Garrison plays a thief on a FOX hit television show and and returns home almost famous.

Richardson native Lane Garrison left home at 18 with $400 and a dream of making it in Hollywood. Last year, the J.J. Pearce grad and, yes, friend of another well-known Pearce alum, landed a role as thief David “Tweener” Apolskis on FOX’s hit show Prison Break. The gig brings Garrison, 26, back to Dallas, where the show films its sophomore season, which premiered August 21.

We hear you got into some trouble yourself when you were growing up.
A lot of trouble. I got arrested for stealing  I used to break and enter into homes. Like my character, I was a big thief. I stopped stealing after my mother drove me to the police station and turned me in. I was more scared of her than the police.

So, growing up in Richardson, did you know the Simpson family?
I lived with the Simpsons.With all the trouble I was in, Joe Simpson, who was my family’s minister, took me into his home and let me live there. Jess and I [have been] friends since we were 12. Joe really didn’t want me to go to LA. He was looking out for me like a parental figure.

Where has the cast been hanging out since you’ve been in town?
All over. Everyone lives in the Uptown area.The W just opened,so we go to the Ghostbar. It’s sort of funny because we’ll do all the Uptown, swanky stuff, like we’ll go to Candle Room. And then I’ll take them to, like, a Dairy Queen.

When you were growing up, were you going to places like Candle Room?
Hell no. I was hanging out at the Whataburger on Coit Road. Which, by the way, I’ve visited, like, 400 times already. —JESSICA JONES   

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(Re)Naming a Burb

It recently came to our attention that various cities in North Texas have “hip-hop” or “street” monikers. For instance, Irving is “Crooked I,” Fort Worth is “Funky Town,” Arlington is “Agg Town,” Dallas is “D-Town.”  We decided to give similar nicknames to cities that don’t yet have them.

PLANO …………………………………………..P-TOWN
ADDISON………………………………………..A-TOWN
MESQUITE……………………………………….M-TOWN
RICHARDSON ………………………………… R-TOWN
FRISCO……………………………………………F-TOWN
BURLESON ……………………………………..B-TOWN
COPPELL…………………………………………C-TOWN
CARROLLTON………………………………….C-TOWN
WILMER …………………………………………W-TOWN
HUTCHINS……………………………………….H-TOWN
FARMERS BRANCH ………………………..FB-TOWN*

*Sorry. We’re not very good at this “hip-hop” thing.

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What’s That Bad Smell in the Weeds Behind That Old Tire?

Top 3 complaints called in to 311, according to City Manager Mary Suhm:
›› Dead animals
›› High weeds
›› Litter

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MASTERMIND: Behind this rather ugly facade may be an even uglier truth: a medical swindle involving eight clinics, a handful of doctors, and orchestrating it all, Dr. Michail Mantas. Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

Playing Doctor
A lawsuit seeks $1.8 million from a Preston Hollow physician.

From appearances, Michail Mantas has reached an admirable station in life. The Texas Tech-educated doctor lives with his wife Mary in a $3.6 million house on Deloache Avenue, in Preston Hollow. His name has appeared in the paper alongside those of socially prominent Dallasites for his generosity to Crystal Charity, AmFAR, and TACA.

But a lawsuit now working its way through the federal courthouse in Dallas, styled Allstate Insurance Company v Michael [sic] Mantas, M.D., paints a different picture.

According to the suit, personal injury lawyers sent patients “purportedly” injured in car accidents to Mantas. The doctor then used a referral network to shuffle them through eight clinics operated by him and his wife, giving the patients MRIs and CT scans and electronic stimulations they didn’t need.He then billed fraudulent claims to Allstate. Further, the lawsuit alleges,Mantas had on his payroll a man named Farshad Barkhordar, who made himself out to be a doctor but wasn’t.The Mantas Clinics routinely prescribed an “electrical stimulation unit” for patients, charging them as much as $895 for a piece of equipment that may cost $55.

Allstate says the suit involves at least 557 claimants and dates back to at least January 2001.The company is suing for $1.8 million.“Because those are the billings we can calculate,” says David Kassabian, the Arlington lawyer representing Allstate. “The real number—that’s unknown to us.”

Mantas’ lawyer, John Scott, says, “Dr. Mantas strongly denies all the allegations. ”Mantas filed his first counter-claim last month. —P.K.

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Breaking Down the City’s Bond

Dallas will vote on a $1.35 billion bond this November. The price tag may sound high, but the city needs money to make roads smoother, cover potholes, improve flood control—repairs and maintenance that are long overdue. And when you factor in the Lege’s recent work on school finance, which will shift the tax burden from homeowners to businesses, your tax bill will actually go down. And you’ll pay the city only $108.97 more in 2008 if the bond takes effect.

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