Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) trustees voted 4-2 to forego any right to roughly $2 million forfeited by district electrical contractor Calvin Walker, who admitted to falsifying invoices submitted to the school district for payment. The decision to not seek the funds came Oct. 18, a day after an attempt by BISD board president Woodrow Reece and Melody Chappell to claim attorney’s fees from the Walker money was denied by a federal court.
According to the Motion to Strike a Claim alleging rights to Walker’s forfeited funds filed by Chappell and verified by Reece, “Beaumont ISD assisted the United States Attorney’s office in gathering information (and) witnesses for prosecution of this matter. Beaumont ISD seeks to obtain payment for attorney fees and costs associated with the attempted prosecution of Calvin Walker.
“Beaumont ISD has incurred costs which can be calculated and proven.”
U.S. Attorney Michael Lockhart filed an objection to Chappell’s motion, stating, “The United States files this Motion to Strike the claim of Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) because BISD has failed to allege an ownership interest in the Defendant Property. Without such allegation of ownership, BISD has no standing to challenge the forfeiture and the claim should be stricken.”
A final order dated Oct. 17 sides with the U.S. Attorney, stating that, “the Court is of the opinion that BISD has failed to allege an ownership interest in the Defendant Property. IT IS ORDERED that the claim of BISD is stricken from the record.”
Funds made available to BISD resulted from a July 17 plea agreement between Walker and the federal court wherein he agreed to forfeit $3.2 million in assets. U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Davilyn Walston said any money left over after taxes and fines were confiscated from the allotment was available to BISD to reclaim since the funds initially came from checks issued to Walker by BISD in response to falsified invoices.
Funds from the forfeited money not used for BISD’s restitution will be placed into a national fund for crime victim compensation.
Immediately after learning of the forfeited funds up for the school district’s taking, the BISD Board of Trustees elected not to pursue the money. Who authorized Reece and Chappell to file the court’s most recently rejected motion is still unclear. However, the board addressed the issue at their Oct. 18 board meeting, again electing not to pursue any retribution.
Trustee Tom Neild said he was not satisfied with the school’s board’s decision and had requested the issue be put on the board’s Oct. 18 meeting agenda.
“The whole intent is for us to take action – for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to come in and let us know what our options are and how we can go about getting back our funds,” Neild said, adding that, “anyone who doesn’t want to seek the restitution needs to explain why they don’t want to seek those funds. They need to explain why to the taxpayers.”
Reece said Walker was not convicted of charges that alleged he bilked BISD by overcharging in the millions.
“Who are you to judge him?” he said. “The court didn’t charge him, so why should we? They want us to do what the courts could not do.”
The view expressed by Reece and apparently shared by a majority of the BISD board ignores the fact the roughly $2 million was forfeited by their electrical contractor Walker in his guilty plea to tax evasion after he admitted falsifying invoices submitted to the school district for payment.
Several local residents disagreed with the board decision. In the public comments section of the meeting, they urged the district to do whatever it took to get that money back, noting the $2 million was needed for the schools and had been collected from taxpayers.
Trustee Tom Neild urged the board to appropriate funds to purchase playground equipment for newly constructed elementary schools, which drew this response from Trustee Zenobia Bush, who had just voted not to seek the forfeited Walker funds.
“I understand and have some sympathy towards the fact we would like to buy playground equipment for all the campuses, but it seems to me a little premature to do this since we didn’t budget for this amount of money, which is almost $2 million,” said Bush. Her remarks were greeted with derisive laughter from audience members who apparently saw bitter irony in Bush’s concern over this $2 million.
Dr. Chargois then informed Bush the district had no money for playgrounds at this time.
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