Guilty Pleas Entered and HISD Official Indicted

Guilty pleas entered and HISD official indicted in federal corruption probe

HOUSTON (STL.News) The former chief operating officer of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) has been indicted along with another individual, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.  Several other former HISD officials have also admitted their guilt in the same corruption case.

Law enforcement took former chief operating officer Brian Busby, 43, and HISD contract vendor Anthony Hutchison, 60, both of Houston, into custody today. They are expected to make their initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison at 2 p.m.

“This investigation and resulting indictments reflect my office’s commitment to rooting out public corruption in the Southern District of Texas,” said Lowery.  “We will not stand idly by when there are people in positions of trust who are suspected of such wrongdoing.  We will consider any matter our law enforcement partners bring us involving suspected fraud, waste and abuse of power by those in whom we have placed our faith and confidence and work to hold them accountable.”

A federal grand jury returned the indictment Dec. 14, which was unsealed today.  Previously filed was a plea agreement former HISD Board of Education president Rhonda Skillern-Jones, 39, Houston, had entered as well as plea agreements by other former HISD officials.  Those officials included Derrick Sanders, 50, Missouri City, officer of construction services; Alfred Hoskins, 58, Missouri City, general manager of facilities, maintenance and operations; Gerron Hall, 47, Missouri City, area manager for maintenance (south); and Luis Tovar, 39, Huffman, area manager for maintenance (north).

“Today’s arrests and related charges are the result of a lengthy, multifaceted FBI Houston investigation,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard A. Collodi.” 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.  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.”

“The indictment of these two individuals alleges the misuse of their positions of trust within our education system,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ramsey E. Covington of IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI).  “IRS-CI special agents are committed to protecting the integrity of our system of taxation by investigating individuals who violate the tax laws and related financial crimes.”

The 26-count indictment charges Busby and Hutchison with conspiring to engage in a bribery scheme.  Busby allegedly helped award HISD construction and grounds maintenance contracts to Hutchison in return for cash bribes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in home remodeling.

According to the indictment, Hoskins, Sanders, Hall, Tovar and Skillern-Jones conspired with Busby and Hutchison to accept bribes from Hutchison for helping to award, or not interfering in the award of, HISD contracts to Hutchison.

Operating as Southwest Wholesale, Hutchison allegedly entered long-term contracts with HISD to provide grounds maintenance to schools.  The indictment alleges that from 2011 to 2020, Hutchison systematically overbilled HISD and inflated bills for services, causing millions of dollars in loss to the school district.  Hutchison paid a portion of his fraudulently boosted profits to Busby in the form of cash payments and free home remodeling, according to the charges.

According to the indictment, Hutchison also obtained purchase orders for construction, repair, landscaping and maintenance jobs at particular HISD schools.  Hutchison obtained these jobs by paying cash bribes, mostly in the form of kickbacks, to HISD personnel who assisted him in obtaining business with HISD, according to the charges.  Those allegedly included Busby, Sanders, Hoskins, Hall, Tovar and Skillern-Jones.

According to the indictment, once Busby and Hutchison learned of the federal criminal probe, they took steps to interfere in the investigation.

Sanders, Hoskins, Hall and Tovar have admitted they helped award, or refrained from interfering in the award of, HISD jobs to Hutchison, typically at Busby’s insistence.  As part of her plea, Skillern-Jones admitted that, in return for bribe payments from Hutchison, she caused an expenditure of funds for school landscaping and construction projects to be placed on a 2017 HISD Board agenda and voted to approve it.  They were eventually awarded to Hutchison.  In her plea agreement, she admitted Busby personally delivered thousands of dollars in bribe payments to her from Hutchison.

During execution of search warrants in 2020 at the homes of Busby and Hutchison, authorities allegedly discovered over $186,000 in cash.  The indictment gives notice of the government’s intent to forfeit these sums as proceeds of the charged crimes.

Busby and Hutchison are charged with conspiracy, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and witness tampering.  Hutchison is further charged with wire fraud.  If convicted, they face up to five, 10 and 20 years, respectively, for the 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 have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charges.  They face up to five years in prison.

All of the charges also carry a $250,000 maximum possible fine.

The FBI and the IRS – Criminal Investigation are conducting the investigation.  Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Robert S. Johnson is prosecuting the case.  AUSA Kristine Rollinson is handling forfeiture matters.

Busby and Hutchison are presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

SOURCE: USDOJ.Today