FORT WORTH — Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon testified Monday that attorney Mario Perez is a criminal.Perez persuaded his then-father-in-law, Bassam Darkazally, to write checks to political candidates that Perez later reimbursed, effectively hiding where the contribution originated, Shannon said. That violates election law, and that’s one of the reasons Perez is under indictment, he said.“You don’t see people laundering campaign money very often,” Shannon testified. “Most of the time, it’s cash under the table.”Shannon was called to testify in a hearing on a motion by Perez to disqualify the district attorney’s office from prosecuting him. Perez is accused in a six-count indictment, handed down in April 2012, of causing false entries to be made on campaign finance reports filed in May 2009 for Aaron Reich, a candidate in an Arlington school board race. Perez’s motion hinges on his contention that Shannon’s wife, attorney Rebecca Lucas, took private information that she developed while handling the divorce for Perez’s now ex-wife and gave it to Shannon and his prosecutors.Perez is asking state District Judge George Gallagher to appoint a special prosecutor to handle his case.Perez’s lawyer, Greg Westfall, subpoenaed Shannon to testify. Shannon offered no public objection.Shannon said he delegated the Perez case to David Lobingier, the economic crimes prosecutor, and an investigator. Although he checked on the status of the case from time to time, Shannon said, he distanced himself from the details.When asked what Lucas told him about the Perez divorce case, Shannon said, “I recall her telling me that [Perez] fancied himself as some sort of big politico, a political operative.”When asked after court for his reaction to Shannon’s testimony, Westfall replied with an expletive.The hearing began March 27 but was interrupted after two days when Gallagher ordered the examination of computers belonging to the ex-wife, Azzah Perez, and a Perez friend, Shaun Gray, a deputy Tarrant County constable.In March, Darkazally testified that he did not make campaign contributions.“I did write checks,” Darkazally said. “Mario asked me to write a check, and I wrote them.”Joetta Keene, another attorney representing Perez, said at the time that her client was being targeted by the state’s attorneys.“They selectively prosecute Mario, but they let Darkazally talk himself into a felony,” Keene said.Darkazally has not been charged with a crime.If convicted, Perez faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.After being indicted, Perez was suspended from a position as associate municipal judge in Forest Hill and lost his partnership in the law firm Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson and also a consultant's post.In 2009 and 2010, Perez was in the news for helping persuade the Arlington and Fort Worth school boards to hire Linebarger and dump the firms they had used for years to collect delinquent taxes.The hearing on Perez’s request is scheduled to continue today.
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3