The adulterous love affair between mayor and developer scandalized the conservative North Texas suburbs.
Laura Maczka, a first-time Richardson mayor, accepted a string of favors, some sexual, from the wealthy and charming developer, Mark Jordan, who became her lover and then her husband. And she did what she could while on the City Council to make sure he got the zoning he wanted for his planned apartments despite vehement resident opposition.
Now the pair are headed to federal prison for their misdeeds in a public corruption case that spanned almost a decade and resulted in a city investigation and two salacious public trials.
U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant on Thursday sentenced Mark Jordan and Maczka, now Laura Jordan, to six years in prison each for bribery and tax fraud. The Plano couple were convicted by a jury in July 2021 and faced as many as 26 years if the sentences were served consecutively. The government asked for 10 years. The defense disclosed in court that prosecutors offered them six months, a deal even the judge referred to as a “sweetheart deal.”
Mazzant said a jury decided what happened was bribery, not a “love story.” They must report to prison Oct. 24.
“You abused your position of power,” Mazzant told the former mayor, adding that Mark Jordan profited from it.
The tale of seduction and betrayal – of spouses and Richardson residents – burst onto newspaper front pages and TV newscasts in 2015 when word of the affair first leaked.
Mark Jordan, 55, wanted to develop a prime plot of land in Laura’s city alongside busy U.S. Highway 75. Despite campaigning on a “no new apartments” platform, Laura Jordan, 57, quickly changed her mind about his Palisades apartments when the developer began romancing her and showering her with gifts like a weekend trip to a Utah ski resort.
“Laura told her friends on several occasions that she was at ‘mayor conferences’ when she was actually with Mark at a swanky hotel in a different city,” Mazzant wrote in an order filed on Wednesday.
The total value of the benefits she accepted from him — but did not publicly disclose — added up to over $130,000, prosecutors said. That included at least a dozen trips to exotic locations, usually in fabulous accommodations overlooking the ocean. But there were also intangible benefits: his attention, affection and the sex they had in fancy hotels, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Rattan.
The case went to trial twice, each lasting about a month, because of unusual circumstances following the first verdict that led to a mistrial. Before the second trial, the government added tax fraud charges that weren’t pursued the first time – because Laura did not report the gifts from Mark as income and because he deducted some of those gifts as business expenses.
The jury convicted them on the tax charges last year.
By the time the first trial began, in 2019, defense attorneys framed the case as a love affair between two people who let their feelings for each other cloud their judgment and tarnish their high ethical standards.
“They were motivated by love and affection. By that time, the Jordans were in the process of leaving their original spouses and moving in together,” said Laura Jordan’s attorneys, Brent Newton and Jeff Kearney, in their recent sentencing memo.
But prosecutors have maintained from the start that, like most corruption cases, it was about something more basic: greed and selfishness.
“Unlike narcotics or fraud defendants, whose conduct affects the physical safety or financial security of individuals, the defendants’ crime offended the very core of the American system — the integrity of the democratic vote,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Anand Varadarajan in a recent government sentencing memo.
Sexual favors as a thing of value in political bribery cases are rare. But Laura wasn’t just attracted to Mark, the government argued. She enjoyed his money and lifestyle.
Prosecutors say in addition to sex, Laura received attention, $18,000 in cash, $40,000 by check, a Mercedes convertible and $24,000 in home renovations from Mark in exchange for her votes for his project. Love or friendship is not a defense to bribery as long as there is an intent to influence a vote, Varadarajan said at the trial.
The defense teams already appealed the convictions, arguing that the federal bribery law does not prohibit gratuities, which they said Mark gave Laura, at most, as a reward for her support of his development.
The majority of U.S. circuit courts that have considered this question, however, concluded that the law does cover corrupt gratuities as well as bribes even though it’s not explicitly stated in the text.
‘We screwed up’
The large Sherman courthouse was packed to capacity during Thursday’s sentencing hearing. Laura told the judge she was “so sorry that I’m standing here in front of you,” and she acknowledged hurting people and the city.
Newton, her attorney, told the judge his client did many good things as mayor and has already suffered greatly from “public shaming” and the humiliating spectacle of two trials.
Mark, his voice cracking, told Mazzant: “We screwed up. I screwed up.”
Barry Pollack, his attorney, told the judge that the couple’s reputation is in “tatters” from the trials. He asked Mazzant to consider all the good his client had done in his life, including multiple missionary trips to Africa and preaching at prisons.
Mark spent more than 30 years in real estate, starting out as an appraiser. He taught Sunday school at his church and served as a deacon, his attorneys said.
But Rattan said the couple’s deceitful conduct was ongoing for two years and that Laura “still hasn’t come clean.”
“It’s all about love is what we’re still hearing today,” she said.
Laura Jordan was elected to a two-year term as mayor in May 2013 after running on a platform that included opposition to apartments near homes. The Richardson mom, new to politics, quit her nonprofit job to avoid potential conflicts.
But she voted for Mark’s Palisades development despite her promises to oppose new apartments and intense opposition from hundreds of nearby homeowners, some who had been her friends, the government alleged.
She later told him in “flirty” emails that she was “taking bullets” for him at heated community meetings about his Palisades development and its apartments that people fought so hard against.
In total, she voted three times from 2013 to 2014 to approve his rezoning requests and also to allow the city to negotiate a $47 million reimbursement deal with him. Rattan said Laura could have abstained from voting but that she “wanted to impress him.”
When Mark’s then-wife asked him why he paid for a home renovation for Laura in October 2014, he replied: “because, Karen, we owe her. We owe her a lot. She’s made us a lot of money,” court records show.
Mark also gave Laura a job at his real estate company when she left the city, in March 2015, paying her a $150,000 salary and $15,000 signing bonus. The leasing agent she replaced earned $70,000 and was more qualified, court records show.
Rattan said on Thursday that Laura was still “taking bullets for him” as recently as last summer when she took the witness stand and lied repeatedly to the jury.
“They hoodwinked the citizens of the city of Richardson,” she told the judge.
Greed or love?
The defense said Mark Jordan, whom both sides acknowledged was a womanizer, was lovestruck by the then-mayor and showered her with gifts out of affection and not any desire to influence her position on his controversial development.
Defense lawyers argued Laura didn’t need to bribe Mark because she publicly supported his Palisades project before she met him.
She liked the project because it was planned smartly, in a transportation corridor with mixed uses like retail and green space, Jeff Kearney, Laura’s attorney, told jurors.
Dan Cogdell, an attorney for Mark, told the jury that Mark was a “cad” with “warts” who should maybe “learn to keep his zipper up.” And Kearney said Laura “probably should have” disclosed her relationship with Mark.
But the lawyers argued that the couple’s lies and infidelities, although wrong, were not deserving of prosecution.
Mark hired a former federal judge when news of the federal investigation leaked out in mid-2015. The lawyer’s suggestion that an engagement ring would be good for Mark’s case “planted a seed,” Varadarajan said in his closing argument.
Laura remained with Mark even though he attempted to cheat on her with a second mistress. Laura learned about his failed 2016 seduction of a former love interest and business associate. But as Laura told jurors, she forgave Mark for succumbing to a moment of “weakness.”
Prosecutors called it more evidence of their sham love affair.
Laura married Mark in 2017. Prosecutors said it was another deception to provide the couple with a convenient legal defense. When Mark and Laura learned during a court hearing that Mark’s ex-wife was talkingto federal authorities, they quickly retained a minister so they could marry, prosecutors said.
A jury convicted them for a second time in July 2021. Mazzant ordered a new trial after the first conviction in 2019 when defense attorneys complained that a juror had been improperly influenced. It stemmed from a court security officer’s remark to try to calm the distraught and undecided juror hours before the verdict.
More recently, Mazzant rejected the Jordans’ challenge of the federal bribery law on which they were convicted. Removing gratuities from the law’s scope would allow someone to pay a lot of money to a politician for a future, unidentified favor, the judge said in his order. And that conflicts with Congress’ intent to prevent political corruption and the misuse of federal money, Mazzant wrote.
The defendants also challenged the concept of sex as a benefit in bribery cases. But Mazzant overruled it, saying the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that “intangibles” such as “sexual services,” constitute a “thing of value” under the law.
“The sexual relations between Mark and Laura were not the primary focus of the evidence put on at trial,” Mazzant wrote. “Indeed, the Government presented evidence that Mark treated Laura to extravagant vacations, remodeled her home, and gave her a job offer with a six-figure salary for a position she was unqualified to fill.”
Mazzant appeared to take issue with some of the couple’s post-trial motions, writing that they consistently disregarded the circumstantial evidence against them presented to jurors.
“In the Jordans’ view, nothing short of a smoking gun is sufficient to sustain a conviction,” the judge wrote.
He concluded his 57-page opinion and a brief summation of the case.
“The people of Richardson, Texas, elected Laura Maczka Jordan as mayor, entrusting her to serve with integrity and deliver on her promises. But Laura Maczka Jordan abused her position of power, and Mark Jordan profited from it. This betrayal of the public trust was a crime punishable under the law.”