BISD’s million-dollar audit outlines suspect behavior

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Although the forensic auditing team of Weaver Tidwell LLP spent one year and a million bucks to painstakingly detail expenditures of the Beaumont Independent School District’s $388 million bond initiative over the course of 2,700 pages, investigators in Southeast Texas have yet to find one indictable offense in the year-old document.

Weaver analysts believed they noted at least six instances that belonged before a judge or jury when they provided their research to the BISD Board of Mangers and law enforcement, including the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, in 2015. At the request of the DA’s office, BISD withheld the audit from the public to allow investigations to proceed unfettered by overexposure. However, after a year under wraps, the DA’s office announced at the end of January 2017 that it was no longer requesting the document’s secrecy.

Once given the DA’s blessing, BISD released what attorney Miles Bradshaw said was the entirety of the document save redaction of assorted birthdays, Social Security numbers and the like on Thursday, Feb. 2.

The report primarily details transactions surrounding the various construction projects funded by the $388.6 million bond package approved by taxpayers in November 2007. The auditors were able to track the bond proceeds with the report, noting misclassifications of funds and inaccurate accounting during the course of the bond projects, and also noted several instances where they believed further investigation and/or prosecution was warranted.

The full report is divided into six parts, each virtual chapter focusing primarily on a particular project or vendor. Among the noted vendors of concern were Andre Lewis dba Architectural Associates, John H. Elamad of the International Design & Consulting Group Inc. dba ECM, Protectors Insurance and Financial Services, HRE – Healthy Resources Enterprise (Eric Boutte), Parsons, and Scott M. Farve. Also noted in Weaver’s final report to the district is W.B. Construction, although a report on that vendor was not provided in the final audit release.

“We have made ourselves available to the Task Force and provided assistance as needed,” Weaver staffer William Brown reported. “We have also identified a number of improprieties or questionable acts or practices involving the promotion, management, or oversight of the bond program.”

Parsons

Analysis of the contract BISD entered into with Parsons, aka 3D/I, for services as the program manager left Weaver reps concluding the contract was awarded “under suspicious circumstances,” indicating improper communications between Parsons and the district.

In addition, it was noted that Parsons employees were so woefully inept that the district had to pay private counsel to perform contracting work it was already paying Parsons to perform.

“According to Melody Chappell, the district’s counsel,” the report noted, “about six months after Parsons was retained, she was asked by the district to handle the preparation of all of the construction contracts with the vendors. She advised that she was brought in because it was determined that Parsons, especially Parsons Project Manager Bob Menefee, had no clue as to how to write a contract. Chappell advised that she did bill the Bond Fund for the work she did in helping Parsons with contracts. She believed her billings would have easily exceeded $100,000 for this work.”

Maybe worse, Weaver contends, “There is evidence that the district made improper demands of Parsons and LANWalton (program manager losing bidder) in exchange for awarding the program manager contract.” Among the demands that resulted in loss to the district was the necessity to “broker” with minority businesses to be awarded district contracts; Weaver notes that these sometimes incestuous unions had dire consequences that cost BISD millions of dollars.

The most costly of all was the pairing of BISD and Eric Boutte.

According to Weaver analysts, Boutte’s involvement was a condition of Parsons’ contract with BISD.

HRE

Eric Boutte’s main enterprise was HRE, which was awarded contract after contract despite poor performance and reviews. For example, although the Evaluation Committee ranked HRE No. 4 of the eight ranked contractors for a particular project, Parsons recommended HRE for a high-dollar project anyway. Which was awarded.

“It should be noted,” Weaver reports, “(Then superintendent Carrol) Thomas orchestrated a highly questionable emergency, no-bid contract in favor of HRE and Eric Boutte on this project. Although this project was to be paid out of the hurricane funds, our analysis showed that approximately $6 million of bond funds were advanced to get this project started.”

John H. Elamad

Elamad, owner of International Design, was the program manager for the Smith Middle School renovation, connected to Boutte’s enterprises.

“He stated that HRE completed their contract and that he approved all payments to them, including the contingency, which he claimed was the contractor’s contingency,” the forensic auditors report. “Elamad advised that it was not his job as the program manager to ensure that the subcontractors were getting paid because HRE swore on each Payment Application that all subcontractors had been paid. Elamad admitted that he knew that this was a false statement by HRE because subcontractors were complaining of non-payment, but that they were subsequently all paid.

Elamad, it was noted, was given a contract for approximately $1.7 million, without board knowledge or approval, to be the program manager for middle school hurricane damage renovations Boutte was performing. Witnesses advised that Superintendent Thomas was in charge of the project, and financial records reflect that he approved the hiring of and payments to Elamad. Thomas refused to be interviewed by forensic auditors.

Protectors Insurance and Financial Services

Weaver believes that Protectors, through its representatives Howard Jefferson and Mark Williams, and by its nominee Alcide Boutte (Eric Boutte’s brother), may have been paid as much as $60,000 by BISD for services which they didn’t perform or performed with an individual who was not qualified to provide such services. Protectors allegedly provided insurance that BISD was already paying to secure from elsewhere.

Andre Lewis

Another alleged preferred broker, Andre Lewis, was secured by Daniels Construction, they said, to finally win the bid for the construction of the third set of elementary schools. According to Daniels, Lewis acted as a consultant on the project even though Daniel’s project manager advised that Lewis added no value to the project and Lewis’ work could and would have been done by the project supervisors. Lewis received a percentage of Daniels’ fees, which resulted in Lewis being paid approximately $180,000 by Daniels for the project.

Scott M. Favre

Another Thomas direct payee, Weaver believes BISD paid Scott M. Favre a total of $1,799,290.02, “which we believe was in excess of the contractual obligation of BISD.” Favre was to be paid a certain percentage of recouped hurricane money, but Weaver auditors believe the consultant dipped into proceeds outside what was appropriate. Thomas, however, signed off on the payments.

Jefferson County Assistant District Attorney Tommy Turner, who reviewed all six of the named suspicious entries, said that poor management is apparent upon review of all the allegations detailed in the forensic analysis. Poor management, he added, is not a crime – and as of yet, no criminal indictments are forthcoming.

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