On eve of sentencing, disgraced Dallas council member Dwaine Caraway knows 'dark days' await him
Friday, March 29, 2019 2:11 PM

On eve of sentencing, disgraced Dallas council member Dwaine Caraway knows 'dark days' await him

Friday, March 29, 2019 2:11 PM
Friday, March 29, 2019 2:11 PM

Dwaine Caraway in front of Dallas City Hall 
(File Photo/Staff) - Dallas Morning News

Robert Wilonsky | Dallas Morning News

Dwaine Caraway answered the phone Thursday afternoon. That was once unremarkable, but it is not something he does for reporters anymore. And, likely, it is not something he will be allowed to do within a matter of days. Which might be why he wanted to talk now, though he sounded tired and ill, all the bounce of his familiar baritone deflated.

"Oooh, I ain't never seen so many dark days as I'm looking at now."

That is how he answered. No time, I guess, for pleasantries, only facts, plain and awful facts. Because he was right. They are coming, the dark days, barreling down.

On April 5, the longtime Dallas City Council member who briefly served as this city's acting mayor will be sentenced to prison for admitting to accepting $450,000 in bribes and kickbacks from the men responsible for the downfall of Dallas County Schools. How much time he will get, Caraway and his attorney Michael Payma will not know until sometime after 1:30 p.m. on a Friday now in plain sight.

"Only God knows," said the 66-year-old Oak Cliff native, who pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud and tax evasion, charges he said he never saw coming even while being interviewed by federal agents.

God knows — but so, too, does U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn, who will set his sentence, just as she did for one-time Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill in February 2010 after a jury found him guilty. Lynn punished Hill with 18 years behind bars for accepting bribes worth a fraction of a fraction of what Caraway pocketed. Hill served just seven years of that sentence before prostate cancer killed him, days after he was granted "compassionate" release from a federal prison in North Carolina.

Though Caraway pleaded guilty, sparing this city the sordid spectacle of yet another corruption trial, and though he has cooperated with the feds in ways we don't yet completely know, there is good reason to believe Lynn will give him every second of the seven years to which he and federal prosecutors agreed. In February, Caraway's attorneys and federal prosecutors asked Lynn to push his sentencing, initially set for last December, to late summertime. For reasons she kept to herself, the judge later refused.

Perhaps, Caraway now says with the sad shrug of inevitability, that was for the best.

"I want to put things behind me and get to the point where this is a bad dream that happened," he said. "It has been the worst time in my life. I cry every day — almost crying now. I dealt with it so I ...," he paused. "It's a different type of burning feeling on the inside that's as terrible as ever. Eating at you, saying, 'You know, things were really moving right, how did I get here?' Of all people, how did I get here?"

There is, of course, an easy answer to that simple question.

Caraway got here by collecting and hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars from con men who wanted his help making millions using worthless stop-arm cameras affixed to school buses. He took his dirty money — "consulting fees," as if — in checks cashed at liquor stores and pawn shops, in trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans and Austin, in fancy suits and gambling chips and security cameras and loans that were never going to be paid back.

According to Bob Leonard, who owned the camera company that collected tens of millions from DCS, Caraway never hid his intentions. In his own guilty plea made public the same day as Caraway's, Leonard said Caraway told him, "I am the City Council."

Not since last summer. Not since he pleaded guilty to betraying the constituents who elected him, time and again, to represent a southern Dallas district desperate for the simple basics that residents of decent and whole cities should be able to take for granted. Not since he reduced his entire life's story into a single sentence.

Caraway did not completely disappear from view, attending candidate forums and dispensing Thanksgiving turkeys like everything was fine. He can still be spotted dining out, and "I go out to the graveyard and talk to my dad, and let him know what's going on," Caraway said.

What do you tell him, I asked.

"Everything."

But he said most of his time has been spent looking after his 90-year-old mother, who lives down the street from her son and suffers from dementia. Caraway is her sole caretaker and said he doesn't know if she is fully aware that her boy is about to disappear for a long, long time.

"So I will have to deal with that next week, after court, if I am allowed to," he said. Caraway worries, too, that he could get a long sentence, and that when he gets out, "she could be gone from here."

"I haven't been asleep since August," Caraway said Thursday. "I am ashamed. I am strong and participating with the system, of course, but these are the darkest days of my life. Disappointing all of the people who were and are still praying and pulling for me. But, man, I ain't never seen it so tough."

The beginning of the end came with a knock on the door around 6:30 the morning of July 10, Payma said this week in a separate interview. Federal authorities showed up at Caraway's house, near the Cedar Crest Golf Course, carrying a search warrant. The mayor pro tem had just gotten out of the shower and wore only a robe.

Caraway invited them in, showed them around, told them everything. The agents, Payma said, "were polite, cordial and extremely professional."

But Caraway did not call his attorney that morning or for many days afterward. He agreed instead to sit for several interviews, to cooperate.

When Caraway finally did call his attorney, Payma said, "It was every lawyer's nightmare."

"But I didn't know I was doing something wrong," Caraway said Thursday.

If that answer shocks you, that is only because you have forgotten all the other indiscretions Caraway escaped unscathed. Like the time he got the cops to lay off his dad's favorite South Dallas poker house. Or when he went to court to bury police records related to a domestic dust-up involving his wife, some aprons and a kitchen knife. Or the countless, never-proved accusations of shakedowns.

"But once it was explained to me, once it was shown to me, it's like teaching a kid how to count to 10," Caraway said. "Once you know, you say, 'You're right.' So ... I've ... I'm ... I am disappointed. But I have faith in God and faith in the system. I just made an error in judgment. It was an error in judgment, and I am paying for it, and I am sorry for it. That poison seeped under the door and right up into my nose."

Caraway was born in this city. He never left this city. He expected to die here. But on April 5, it is very likely the judge will send him far away from here for the first time in his life, and for a very, very long time.

"This is something that's just unreal," Caraway said before we hung up. "But it's real. This was not supposed to happen to Dwaine."

But it did. Because he let it.

Thursday, February 21, 2019 5:18 PM

The Racial Divide Is the Political Divide

Thursday, February 21, 2019 5:18 PM
Thursday, February 21, 2019 5:18 PM

© John Minchillo / Associated Press A poll worker and voters in Columbus, Ohio, in 2016

by Vann R. Newkirk II | The Atlantic | February 21, 2019

Contra Barack Obama, there is a white America and a black America. There are also varying versions of Latino and Hispanic Americas across different regions of the country. There are robust, enduring differences in belief across races and communities about just what America’s identity should be and how politics are experienced, and they in turn create the political reality of the country. Partisan politics arise from these differences, and exploit them. And these differences might be structural, informed by the basic fact of human geography, a geography itself built on the fact of American apartheid.

A new poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and The Atlanticdelves into these differences, and finds distinct racial outlooks on the most fundamental issues of American identity and values. This poll reaffirms previous findings from PRRI and The Atlantic of deep racial differences in policy preferences across a number of issues, and also confirms the picture of deep structural barriers to the ballot for black and Hispanic voters, barriers that played a role in the 2016 election and the 2018 midterms.

The PRRI/Atlantic poll, a random survey of slightly more than 1,000 people taken in December, reveals major differences among racial groups on some of the basic questions about what makes America America, and what makes Americans so. A strong majority of white respondents—59 percent—think that speaking English is a very important part of being American. The majority of black and Hispanic people do think that speaking English is at least a somewhat important component of Americanness, but almost a tenth of both groups think it’s not important at all, while only 2 percent of whites feel that way. Interestingly, black and Hispanic respondents are much more likely than whites to say that belief in God is a very important component of a specific American identity.

When it comes to the basic philosophical underpinnings of what an American nation means, the poll also finds sharp distinctions among races. Seventy-six percent of white people and 74 percent of Hispanics think that civil liberties such as freedom of speech are a very important piece of American identity, while only 61 percent of black respondents feel so. More than half of black respondents think that a belief in capitalism isn’t a very important part of that identity, while good majorities of both white and Hispanic people think that it’s either somewhat important or very important. Forty-five percent of Hispanic respondents said that racial, ethnic, and religious diversity make the country much stronger, compared with 32 percent of whites. And white respondents are most likely to say that diversity makes the country weaker, or to be ambivalent about the idea of diversity altogether.

These differences equate to real political differences. Black people overwhelmingly identify as Democrats, and the small but influential sliver of black conservatives who identify as Republican appears to be diminishing, as the increasing influence of Trumpism and the alt-right of the modern GOP have made the Republican Party more and more openly hostile to black voters. Other polls also show black voters increasingly concerned about racism. White voters might be moving in the other direction, and philosophically seem to be deprioritizing the importance of diversity in favor of an embrace of capitalism, nationalism, and individual liberty. And according to the researcher Adrian Pantoja, an analyst with the Latino Decisions political-opinion research firm, Latino voters have increasingly made opposing the GOP agenda a top political priority in the age of President Donald Trump.

The profiles of the Republican and Democratic parties have shifted accordingly. In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats elected one of the most racially diverse incoming classes of legislators since Reconstruction, and a diverse field of potential presidential contenders revolves around a multifaceted policy debate that’s heavily influenced by progressive ideas. Republicans have had to shape their party around explicit appeals to white voters and their anxieties, and have had to build an electoral strategy that can promote low overall turnout and stoke white grievances. In short, Democrats have cultivated an image as the party of racial and cultural pluralism, while Republicans have rejected pluralism as a viable strategy.

The emerging policy strategies within the parties also reflect these racial differences. As the Fight for $15, a global political movement advocating higher minimum wages, has significantly affected liberal organizing, and as $15-minimum-wage promises have become a potential litmus test in the 2020 Democratic primary, the PRRI poll indicates that 81 percent of black people favor raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, with 60 percent of them strongly favoring the law. Majorities of both white and Hispanic respondents also favor the minimum-wage increase, but not at the numbers or with the fervor of black people. With gun control a major partisan wedge issue, black and Hispanic respondents are also much more likely to strongly favor stricter gun-control laws than whites. Interestingly, black respondents are the most likely racial group to support providing pathways to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States.

As racial identity and partisan identity more closely align, and as turnout becomes a more and more important metric for assessing political fortunes, the PRRI poll also finds that people of color are markedly more likely to report having faced notable barriers in electoral and civic participation than white respondents.

Six percent of black people and 7 percent of Hispanic people reported that they or someone else in their household did not have the proper voter identification the last time they went to vote, a small proportion but one much higher than the 1 percent of white respondents who said they’d had similar problems. Nine percent of black respondents and 8 percent of Hispanic respondents said that they or someone in their household had trouble finding their polling place, again as opposed to zero percent of white respondents. Nineteen percent of black people and 14 percent of Hispanic people said they’d had to wait in long lines, as opposed to 9 percent of whites. And the percentages of black and Hispanic voters who reported harassment or an inability to take off work, for themselves or for household members, was significantly higher than the percentage of white voters who said the same.

These results support findings in a June 2018 PRRI/ Atlantic poll, in which “across just about every issue identified as a common barrier to voting, black and Hispanic respondents were twice as likely, or more, to have experienced … barriers as white respondents.” And they come after a 2018 midterm election in which claims of voter suppression and major civil-rights lawsuits came to define elections in places such as Georgia, Kansas, and North Dakota.

Notably, the 2019 update also polls respondents on their conception of the controversial potential addition of a citizenship question to the census. Advocacy groups have opposed the question on the grounds that it might really be used to further an anti-immigration agenda and imperil the residences of unauthorized immigrants—or that people in Hispanic communities especially might believe that the census would lead to illegal immigration checks, and would refuse to answer or take the survey. The PRRI/Atlantic poll finds that this suspicion has merit, and might already be affecting the census’s effectiveness. On the one hand, 40 percent of Hispanic respondents think that a potential citizenship question would be used for checking individuals’ immigration status as opposed to counting the population. Black respondents, on the other hand, are the least likely to buy the stated rationale for the question, and only 17 percent believe that it will be used for the sole purpose of counting the population. These numbers track with the Census Bureau’s recent approximation that more than 600,000 households would fail to complete the census because of the question.

In light of the national conversation around both the census and voter suppression, both of which concern the basic shape of American democracy and the role minorities play in the future of America, these results from PRRI and The Atlantic shed new light on fundamental questions. They illustrate that the so-called demographic destiny of America is one that would look radically different should the country become majority nonwhite sometime in the next 20 or 30 years. The data indicate that white, black, and Hispanic voters have markedly divergent ideas on what exactly makes the American identity, and they also indicate that these differences are enforced and entrenched via spatial and social segregation. But the data also cast some doubt on the political prospects of that demographic destiny. They show that black and Hispanic voters are more likely to be carved out of the political process, and that those efforts are perhaps aided by the existing regime of segregation. In all, they show that the competing visions of America, as separated by race and region, are indeed competing, and that they are the chessboard upon which all politics is played.

Former Judge Lance Mason’s Rise and Fall
Monday, November 19, 2018 4:45 AM

Former Judge Lance Mason’s Rise and Fall

Monday, November 19, 2018 4:45 AM
Monday, November 19, 2018 4:45 AM

Lance Mason during court proceedings in 2015. (Chuck Crow, The Plain Dealer)

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Lance Mason, who was accused Saturday of fatally stabbed his estranged wife at her home, had served as a former prosecutor, state lawmaker and Common Pleas judge.

But Mason’s fall from grace began four years earlier, in 2014, when he brutally beat his wife in front of his two young children.

At the time of the attack on his wife, Aisha Fraser, Mason was a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to the attack, during which he punched his wife 20 times and slammed her head against the dashboard of his car five times, breaking an orbital bone.

Here’s how Lance Mason went from being a respected public official, to felon, to City of Cleveland employee, to murder suspect:

Mason was born on Aug. 26, 1967, according to court records. He told Crain’s Cleveland Business in 2001 that he graduated from Shaker Heights High School and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of Wooster. He went on to receive a law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1992.

1992 - 1995

Mason’s first job out of law school was with the regulatory division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He handled cases such as the prosecution of meat producers who masked spoiled meat with chemicals, he told Crain’s Cleveland.

1996 - 1999

Mason then served as an assistant prosecutor in Cuyahoga County, according to his Ohio Statehouse page. He handled several felony cases, including capital murder, kidnapping, felonious assaults, rapes and robberies.

During his time as assistant prosecutor, Stephanie Tubbs Jones was the county prosecutor. When Tubbs Jones succeeded retiring U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes in 1999, she tapped Mason to join her congressional staff.

1999 - 2002

As an aide to U.S. Rep. Tubbs Jones, Mason was in charge of the congresswoman’s district office, handling the day-to-day tasks of organizing meetings and community events.

After a few years as a congressional district director, Mason was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Ohio House of Representatives.

2002 - 2008

At the end of his appointment, he won reelection from the 8th District in both 2002 and 2004. Mason, a Democrat, served as assistant minority whip during his final year.

He was elected in 2006 to the Ohio Senate where he represented the 25th District. Mason also worked for about a decade as a private practice lawyer, according to his Ohio Statehouse page.

Aug. 2008 - Aug. 2014

Gov. Ted Strickland announced in August 2008 that he was appointing Mason to fill a vacancy on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, cleveland.com reported. He resigned from his Ohio Senate seat to take the job.

Mason earned $76,173 per year as a state senator, and $121,350 as a judge, according to cleveland.com.

Aug. 2, 2014

A woman exiting an RTA train about 12:10 p.m. called police after witnessing two people fighting inside an orange SUV driving down Van Aken Boulevard in Shaker Heights.

The caller said the SUV slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road. The caller said she saw “fists flying” inside the car.

Aisha Fraser Mason called 911 about 12:15 p.m. saying her husband attacked her in front of her two young children and threw her from their SUV.

Fraser Mason called 911 and flagged down a passing driver who drove her to South Pointe Hospital in Warrensville Heights.

Cleveland police arrested Mason about 12:45 p.m. and confiscated smoke grenades, semi-automatic rifles, a sword, a bulletproof vest and more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition from the couple’s home.

A member of Mason’s family called Cleveland police to say she was afraid he was going to use weapons inside his home to commit suicide, the report said.

Police arrived and Mason surrendered. Once inside a police car, he admitted to having weapons in his bedroom and the attic of his home. Mason was taken to Shaker Heights Municipal Jail.

Aug. 4, 2014

Shaker Heights officials announced Mason had been arrested and Fraser Mason was hospitalized following an attack that took place in both private and public.

Prosecutors charged Mason with assault, a second-degree felony.

Charging documents indicated that Mason punched his wife 20 times and slammed her head against the dashboard of the car five times, breaking an orbital bone. She needed to get facial reconstructive surgery as a result of the incident. Their daughters, ages 6 and 4 at the time, were in the backseat.

Fraser Mason filed for divorce. Their divorce is still not finalized, court records show.

A Shaker Heights Municipal Court judge granted a protection order against Mason, barring him from being within 500 feet of his wife or children, cleveland.com reported.

Aug. 13, 2015

More than a year after the incident, Mason pleaded guilty to attempted felonious assault and domestic violence, cleveland.com reported.

A few weeks after, the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Mason from practicing law. He submitted his resignation as a judge on Sept. 15, 2015.

Sept. 16, 2015

Mason was sentenced by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove to two years in prison.

He served nine months and was released in June 2016, cleveland.com reported.

2017

Suspended indefinitely from practicing law, Mason remained out of the public eye after being released from jail. He was ordered to pay a $150,000 judgment to Fraser Mason in a civil case for damages after the attack.

His name reemerged in the fall of 2017 after he was hired by Mayor Frank Jackson in late August as Cleveland’s director of minority business development.

Mason was one of 13 candidates for the position, but was handpicked by Jackson, who was up for re-election.

A city official said Mason was the most qualified applicant for the $45,000-a-year job.

Jackson won re-election and Mason continued to work for the City of Cleveland.

Nov. 17, 2018

Shaker Heights police responded about 9:30 a.m. to a home on the 17600 block of Chagrin Boulevard for a domestic dispute that cleveland.com sources said involved Mason and Fraser Mason.

Mason had fatally stabbed Fraser Mason, sources told cleveland.com. Mason tried to flee the scene in a black Audi SUV, but struck a Shaker Heights police SUV, injuring both the officer and himself.

Mason and the officer were each taken to the hospital Saturday.

Mayor Frank Jackson terminated Mason’s employment Saturday evening based on felony charges stemming from the incident in Shaker Heights.

“I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Ms. Aisha Fraser, especially to her children,” Jackson said in a statement.

Fraser, 45, was remembered Saturday as a beloved Shaker Heights elementary school teacher.

“Aisha exemplified the best of Shaker Heights teachers; smart, amazingly caring of her students and her colleagues, active in her profession and in our association,” the Shaker Heights Teachers' Association said Saturday. “She is loved by many.”