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Dallas mayoral candidate Scott Griggs has a money mess on his hands.
The four-term council member’s latest problem is that he either took too much money from a Dallas developer or accepted $1,000 checks from the man’s young grandchildren, according to campaign finance filings.
In the same 2017 election cycle in which Griggs reported $4,000 in donations from the school-aged children of former Dallas County Judge James M. Stanton, Griggs’ campaign reported $6,000 from one person — the chairman and founder of AmeriSouth Realty Group Ruel Hamilton.
The donations were all made on a single day, Sept. 9, 2016, and all listed AmeriSouth’s corporate address. AmeriSouth owns and operates thousands of low-income apartments in Texas and Oklahoma, and Hamilton is a frequent donor to Dallas City Council and Dallas ISD races.
Griggs, a four-term council member, and his past campaign finance reports have come under increased scrutiny with his entry into the mayor’s race. Other council and mayoral candidates also have questionable donations on their reports — but Hamilton’s contributions are among several on Griggs’ reports that could be in violation of the city’s rules. Griggs attributed some of them to clerical errors.
While state, county and ISD races don’t usually limit individual donations, the city of Dallas caps individuals at a maximum of $1,000 to City Council candidates and $5,000 to mayoral candidates per election cycle. That would mean Hamilton’s donations far exceeded the amount he could donate to Griggs in the 2017 council race.
When contacted by D Magazine, which first reported the story, Griggs sent a picture of an envelope showing handwritten names of six people in the Hamilton family. D reported that Griggs said that was how his campaign kept record of the donations, even though they had reported them all in Ruel Hamilton’s name.
But two of the names on the envelope belonged to Hamilton’s young twin granddaughters.
When asked by D to see Hamilton’s checks, Griggs said he was unable to provide that information. The bank, Griggs said, only provided him a deposit slip for all the donations deposited that day. He reiterated that Wednesday afternoon in an interview with The Dallas Morning News and suggested Hamilton might be more capable of providing copies of the checks.
Prior to the publication of D Magazine’s report, Griggs wrote a vague Facebook post about how he “identified two contributions from minors in 2016 and returned both.”
“While we don’t have the resources to do background and asset checks on every contributor, we do have the ability to correct mistakes and be accountable,” the post read.
Griggs made a similar statement after the discovery of the Stanton family’s donations, denying that he knew the contributions came from Stanton’s children — even though it appears he had been at a campaign event at Stanton’s home on the same day the checks were logged in his campaign filing.
Griggs didn’t answer directly when asked whose responsibility it should be to verify campaign donations if his campaign wasn’t up to the task. He instead echoed his Facebook post, saying, “Over the last decade, we’ve received hundreds and hundreds of contributions. We don’t have the resources to do background and asset checks.”
Last year, Griggs and several fellow council members also vowed to donate thousands in contributions they had previously received from key figures in the Dallas County Schools corruption scandal.
Following his unopposed 2015 re-election campaign through his 2017 campaign — in which he soundly beat challenger Stephen Winn — Griggs reported 74 maximum $1,000 individual donations over four different filing periods.
Six of those 74 were from Hamilton, and five came from the Stanton clan.
Scott Griggs’ past campaign finance reports have come under increased scrutiny with his entry into the Dallas mayor’s race.
Griggs said he typically sends thank-you notes to those who make donations to his campaign, but couldn’t say whether he sent Hamilton or Stanton a note.
“I’d have to go back and check,” he said. “I don’t keep copies of thank-you notes.”
But other donations Griggs reported also appeared to be in violation of the city’s rules.
Griggs’ 2016 semi-annual filing reported that Matt Segrest — the president of development company Alamo Manhattan — made two separate $1,000 donations in the same period. One was reported under Matthew P Segrest on Meadow Lark Ave. The other was from Matt Segrest on Meadow Lake Ave. with the same house number. There is a Meadowlark Lane in Dallas, but there is not a house with that address on the street.
Alamo Manhattan is building the Victor Prosper apartments, two mixed-use buildings with 220 rental units in North Oak Cliff, Griggs’ district. The project won council approval in 2016 for up to $11.25 million in tax subsidies.
Segrest said Wednesday that if the report was accurate, “that’s an accident.”
He said Griggs did a great job mediating between city officials and the North Oak Cliff community on the Victor Prosper project, saying "the end result with what he oversaw was great for us and the community." Alamo Manhattan also had help from its lobbyist, former City Council member Angela Hunt — a key Griggs ally who helped introduce him when he announced his mayoral run last month.
Segrest said he thinks Griggs is “a great future mayor.”
In the same filing that showed the Hamilton donations, Griggs also reported a $1,500 donation from Oak Cliff property manager Patrick Henson — more than the maximum allowed. He reported a separate $1,500 donation from “Mr. & Mrs. Patrick Henson” — with matching addresses — in the same report, and another $400 donation in the days leading up to the election. In a brief phone call, Henson said he was unfamiliar with the donations, and that he had left the state.
Griggs called Henson’s donations a “clerical error" and would provide an answer about it "shortly."
And in a filing eight days before the 2017 election — in which Stanton’s donations were recorded — Griggs reported two $1,000 donations from “Cella Lopel” and “Celia Lopez” who shared the same P.O. Box.
Efforts to contact Celia Lopez for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.
“That’s a clerical error,” Griggs said, explaining that there were two donations made from Lopez and her husband, which is allowed under the city’s rules. “I’ve already corrected that.”
Six other instances came up in Griggs’ filings from 2015 in which donations exceeded contribution limits.
“I appreciate you pointing out these clerical issues and I will correct them,” Griggs said.
Former state representative Jason Villalba after he announced he will run for Dallas mayor at his grandmother’s house in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood on Tuesday, January 15, 2019.
Other candidates in the crowded mayoral field have blasted Griggs’ donations. Developer Mike Ablon, a political newcomer, said the latest report “proves a disturbing pattern that violates the public trust,” adding that Griggs should explain his actions to the city’s Ethics Advisory Commission. Former State Rep. Jason Villalba renewed his call on Griggs to leave the race, citing “a clear pattern of corruption and unethical behavior.”
“The people of Dallas deserve better from their elected officials,” Villalba said.
But Griggs isn’t the only mayoral candidate or current City Council member with questionable donations.
Council member Carolyn King Arnold reported a bundle of eight $1,000 donations from Hamilton’s family — including one from his young grandson.
Council member Casey Thomas reported three $1,000 donations from Hamilton, all on the same day and all in his name, in the run-up to the 2017 election.
In her successful 2015 run a council seat, Tiffinni Young also received a bundle of 10 $1,000 donations from Hamilton’s family, including the same grandson and twin granddaughters.
Efforts to reach Hamilton, Thomas, Arnold and Young were unsuccessful.
This election cycle, mayoral candidate Albert Black Jr. received two $5,000 donations from the same Milwaukee resident, Kristie Thomas, during the past six months, according to his recent campaign finance report.
Dallas mayoral candidate Albert Black Jr. spoke last month during a community breakfast at El Ranchito Restaurant.
Before deferring the question Wednesday afternoon to someone in his campaign, Black said the issue was important to him.
Black’s general consultant, Grant Martin, said one of the donations should have been attributed to Thomas’ husband. The campaign, Martin said, would amend the report on Thursday.
Staff writer Dave Boucher and senior computational journalist Andrew Chavez contributed to this report.