Former Houston schools COO indicted for overcharging school district $6M

Former Houston schools COO indicted for overcharging school district $6M

December 22, 2021 0 By Bethany Blankley

Former Houston Independent School District Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby had been indicted nearly two years after the FBI raided district headquarters and Busby’s home.

Five HISD officials, including a former board of education president, also pleaded guilty in an historic corruption case involving the state’s largest school district that cost taxpayers $6 million.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery said the nearly two-year-long investigation and resulting indictments reflected her office’s “commitment to rooting out public corruption in the Southern District of Texas.”

“We will not stand idly by when there are people in positions of trust who are suspected of such wrongdoing,” Lowery said.

It was alleged in February 2020 that Busby had been conspiring with a contractor to receive millions worth of HISD contracts in exchange for kickbacks. When the FBI raided his home, it confiscated $90,150 in cash, as well as $95,874 in cash from the home and vehicle of Anthony Hutchison, the primary contractor involved in the scheme.

Busby is accused of helped award HISD construction and grounds maintenance contracts to Hutchison’s company, Southwest Wholesale, in return for cash bribes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in home remodeling, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A federal grand jury indicted Busby and Hutchison on 26 counts on last week.

Plea agreements also were entered into with HISD officials, including former Board of Education President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Officer of Construction Services Derrick Sanders, General Manager of Facilities, Maintenance and Operations Alfred Hoskins, Area Manager for Maintenance (south) Gerron Hall and Area Manager for Maintenance (north) Luis Tovar.

Skillern-Jones, Sanders, Hoskins, Hall and Tovar are accused of conspiring with Busby and Hutchison to accept bribes in exchange for awarding the contracts to Hutchison or to turn a blind eye, according to the indictment.

“Houston taxpayers and the thousands of HISD students, along with their teachers and staff, are the potential victims of this alleged multimillion-dollar public corruption scheme,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard Collodi said. “The FBI will continue to work to hold accountable public officials who fail the citizens of their community by accepting bribes, and those who pay bribes.”

Southwest Wholesale entered long-term contracts with HISD to provide grounds maintenance to schools from 2011 to 2020, according to the indictment. During this time, Hutchison is said to have systematically overbilled HISD and inflated bills for services, causing millions of dollars in loss to the school district, giving a portion of the profits to Busby, according to the charges.

Hutchison also obtained purchase orders for construction, repair, landscaping and maintenance jobs at particular HISD schools – jobs he got by paying cash bribes to Busby, Sanders, Hoskins, Hall, Tovar and Skillern-Jones, according to the indictment.

Yet many of the jobs were never even begun, including numerous gardening and landscaping services such as installing ramps, striping fields, planting trees and mowing multiple school properties, ABC 13 News reported.

Lowery’s office said once Busby and Hutchison found out that they were being investigated, they “took steps to interfere in the investigation.”

Skillern-Jones admitted as part of her plea that in exchange for receiving bribes, she ensured school landscaping and construction projects were placed on a board agenda in 2017, voted to approve it and the projects were awarded to Hutchison. She admitted “Busby personally delivered thousands of dollars in bribe payments to her from Hutchison.”

Busby and Hutchison were charged with conspiracy, bribery related to federally-funded programs and witness tampering. Hutchison also was charged with wire fraud. If convicted, they face up to five, 10 and 20 years in prison, respectively, for conspiracy, bribery and witness tampering charges. Hutchison also faces up to 20 years for each count of wire fraud.

Hoskins, Sanders, Hall, Tovar and Skillern-Jones each face up to five years in prison.

All charges carry a $250,000 maximum fine.

Busby began working at HISD in the late 1990s as a custodian, ultimately rising in the ranks to become COO in December 2016. He was tasked with overseeing more than 7,000 employees and an annual operating budget of more than $250 million.

HISD said it has been cooperating with the investigation and no one indicted is currently employed by HISD.

“From the time that HISD became aware of the federal investigation in February 2020, HISD provided information as requested by law enforcement with respect to the investigation,” it said in a statement. “As that criminal investigation progressed, HISD also implemented additional internal procedures to safeguard against the type of conduct alleged in the charges announced today.”

This article was originally posted on Former Houston schools COO indicted for overcharging school district $6M