(original publication date: Sept. 19)
As the Beaumont Independent School District dips into its reserve funds for yet another budget year that includes more expenditures than revenues, frivolous spending on printing and catering has not been stifled.
At the helm of the hemorrhaging fund balance is current BISD assistant superintendent for secondary education Patricia Adams Collins Lambert, who was bumped up to the administrative cabinet in 2012 despite sporting phony Harvard credentials and a criminal background. Before her move up the ranks, Lambert spent six years as the principal of Central High School, amassing huge invoices for her son’s home business and various food servers. Lambert, although tasked with educating the city’s most economically disadvantaged students with a more than $300,000 school allotment fund, used roughly a third of the funds meant for the students to pay her son and various food servers.
As detailed in the June 27, 2013, edition of The Examiner, Lambert has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to her son’s Designergy business. However, after a public information request was finally fulfilled by the district, that total amounted to much, much more. And as shown in records kept at Central High School, Designergy also received funds — $29,000 in one month alone — from the school’s Title 1 money, which are additional funds allotted to schools who serve an underserved and at-risk group of students.
But family ties aren’t all that bind at Central High School. Immediately after taking over the reigns of Central High, food service bills skyrocketed.
One catering company alone, Dre’s Place, has billed the district more than $100,000 for food prep since 2012. Further evidence suggests Dre’s Place isn’t even licensed to prepare food in the city of Beaumont, and its principal owner is a bartender for the Beaumont Country Club with a dba (“doing business as,” or the company’s name) for Dre’s Place whose location is listed as a Beaumont home on Westmoreland.
Most interesting to the certified public accountant asked to review the hundreds of pages of documents wherein Dre’s Place owner Mandre Zachary invoiced BISD for services rendered was the fact that although the invoices are for Dre’s Place, the checks are made out to an individual — Mandre Zachary.
“That’s very odd,” the accountant said. “You’re really starting to get into issues such as taxing problems when you do something like that. I can’t think of any legitimate reason to pay a person on a personal check for something that was done by a company with a dba.”
In the 2005-06 school year under Principal Thom Amons, $2,026.58 was spent on food. In the 2006-07 school year at Central under new Principal Lambert, the total spent on food exceeded $20,000. That trend continued every year Lambert was heading the Central campus.
But in 2011, the payouts began to change to a person by the name of Mandre Zachary. That school year alone, Zachary was paid approximately $50,150 for food service to the high school. For roughly a 12-month span following in 2012 and 2013, about $100,000 was paid to Zachary for food.
Central High School employees noticed something wasn’t right with the way food service contracts were being awarded about the same time Zachary started getting cut regular checks.
“I was asked to put on a program for Central,” one teacher told The Examiner, asking not to be outed as cooperating with this investigation. “I was allowed to do everything but get the food. I was told that wasn’t any of my business.
“After the program was over, I saw the invoice for the food — it was to the tune of about $17,500. I was amazed! For chicken wings and rice – that’s just something. I was glad then that I had nothing to do with getting that food. At that point I realized something was not right.”
According to the educator, more payouts than what was shown in the public information request were also made to Zachary.
“Most likely that money was coming from the student activity fund,” she said.
A check for $17,380 was found in the checking records from Central High, paid directly to Zachary, although the invoice was made out to Dre’s Place Catering.
Business as usual
Zachary said he is a fledgling business, which is why he has the checks made out to him personally rather than his business.
“I’m just now getting it all together, but I was putting it in my personal account,” he said. “Anyone who’s helped, I paid in cash.”
According to Zachary, Central High is his biggest customer.
“Other than family, we do most of our catering for BISD, Central and a couple other campuses,” he said. “They ask us to do a job, and we do it.”
Zachary said he opened his own business in part to turn his life around after spending 14 months in jail ending in 2008.
“That’s something I’m not very proud of,” Zachary said of his criminal record, which lists several counts of forgery of a financial instrument, forgery to defraud or harm, and theft. “I’m trying to get my life back on the right track.”
Zachary said he came into the job by passing out fliers and his business card.
“I don’t recall us doing that much,” Zachary said when asked about the size of payments to his catering enterprise. “Maybe that’s for a lot of invoices.”
However, he did not deny payouts of roughly $100,000 in a 12-month time span.
“We do a lot of work for Central,” he said.
As far as not having a license to prepare food, Zachary said there are ways around that.
“We worked with the Burger Bun and used their license until they closed,” he said. “We use churches … to do some of it.”
But, according to him, he never prepares any of the food himself, mostly re-traying food bought from other outlets.
“Maybe Sam’s, stuff like that,” he gave as outlets to where the food comes from. Central’s Sam’s charges are tens of thousands of dollars annually, but Zachary said all the food he uses comes from his own purchases.
BISD’s policy is that any vendor receiving more than $50,000 in a 12-month time must bid on the contract, a practice not followed, according to Zachary.
“It shows that we’re not on top of our game,” BISD Trustee Tom Neild said when briefed on the catering situation. “We spent that much money with a company that’s not licensed — which is a huge liability. I’m disappointed. We have rules and procedures and it’s short-sighted to not follow those policies we have set in place.”