Brian Busby, the former Chief Operating Officer of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) has been indicted on corruption charges. Also indicted was Anthony Hutchison, a vendor to HISD.
Five other former HISD officials have pleaded guilty for their role in the scheme, including Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who served as an HISD trustee between 2012-2019.
Hutchison owns a business called Southwest Wholesale that performed grounds maintenance and landscaping services to numerous HISD properties. Starting in 2011, he provided mowing services to HISD and also supplied ‘Kiddie Cushion’ mulch to playgrounds.
The indictment alleges that Hutchison would bill HISD for 35 ‘cuts’ a month, even though they only mowed 20 times. In addition, he inflated both the cost and the volume of mulch supplied to HISD. For some construction contracts awarded, work was billed, but not performed.
The indictment alleges that Southwest Wholesale systemically overbilled HISD by $7.1 million. In return, the indictment alleges that Hutchison paid bribes of $162,000 to Busby. Hutchison also paid contractors $366,000 for work performed at Busby’s personal residence. An earlier complaint filed in a civil case against Busby alleged that there were cash deposits of $2,330,315 into accounts that Busby controlled that were not related to his HISD salary or his wife’s earnings.
Board Trustee bribed
Ms. Skillern-Jones was paid $12,000 by Hutchison (via Busby) in 2017. In return, she caused to be placed on a 2017 HISD Board agenda and voted to approve, an expenditure of funds for projects that were awarded to Hutchison.
Area Maintenance Managers
The other HISD officials who pleaded guilty were maintenance managers. Southwest Wholesale also used HISD labor for some of the properties where it had the mowing contract. Busby caused the maintenance managers to authorize and approve overtime to HISD grounds crew, even though Southwest Wholesale billed HISD for the work.
The maintenance managers received between $20,000 and $75,000 each in bribes.
Busby and Hutchison were originally arrested in February 2020. When the FBI searched Busby’s home, they found $90,150 in cash. For Hutchison, they found $73,474 cash in the house and $22,400 in a fanny pack under the seat of his care.
The indictment states that Hutchison maintained a bribe ledger, outlining all the details of the payments he made.
Busby and Hutchison also charged with witness tampering. When they realized the FBI were investigating, Busby instructed Hutchison to falsely state to the FBI that the payments in the ledger represented gambling winnings rather than bribes.
If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison for some of the charges. Those that pleaded guilty face up to 5 years in prison.