BISD revisits surrendered funds pursuit
At least two governmental agencies are looking at ways to collect money from Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) electrical contractor of record, Walker’s Electric Company, including BISD and the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR).
Show me the money
In December 2011, Walker’s Electric owner Calvin Walker, 51, positioned himself in the defendant’s seat in a federal trial alleging the electrician bilked BISD by overcharging in the millions for work performed at the district’s campuses. Walker was indicted on 37 counts of wire and mail fraud, fraud perpetrated against an entity receiving federal funds and money laundering – but the jury was ultimately deadlocked by the trial’s conclusion. A re-trial was set for July 2012, but instead of repeating the process, Walker agreed to a plea arrangement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office a week before the encore proceedings were to commence. In exchange for forfeiting $3.2 million in annuities and admitting to a single misdemeanor, Walker was free from further prosecution.
U.S. Attorney Bob Rawls for the Eastern District of Texas asserted that Walker defrauded taxpayers by falsifying invoices and requests for payment submitted to the Beaumont Independent School District for payment.
“This … is about greed,” Rawls said. “It is a violation of the public trust and theft of public funds.”
Days after the plea arrangement was made, BISD elected to extend Walker’s contract with the district as the electrical contractor of record.
Although sentencing still hasn’t been handed down on Walker for his admitted actions, the plea agreement stipulates that Walker will forfeit $3.2 million in annuities to be used for paying off the electrician’s tax debt and settling the books with BISD. The tax bill and any assessed fine will be determined at sentencing. Any funds left over after taxes and fines may be used to pay restitution to BISD, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Davilyn Walston said. Additionally, Walker is set to get back other assets seized by the government in anticipation of the 2011 trial including checks totaling more than $519,000, a 2010 Mercedes Benz, and roughly $200,000 worth of non-forfeited annuities.
Funds from the forfeited money not used for BISD’s restitution will be placed into a national fund for victims’ compensation. Still, immediately after learning of the forfeited funds up for the taking, the BISD Board of Trustees elected not to pursue the money.
Trustee Tom Neild said he was not satisfied with the school’s board’s earlier decision and has 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. “The last time it was presented, the board elected not to do anything about it.”
According to Neild, “We need to take a vote, and 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.”
“We need to recover as much as we can for the taxpayers of Beaumont.”
Like father, like son
Texas Education Agency correspondence in 2011 stated that auditors identified concerns regarding the validity of Walker’s Electric Company’s license to do electrical work.
“Although Walker’s Electric claimed that the company had a valid master electrician’s license, there is still a question as to whether the master electrician’s license was valid,” the agency’s report contended. “The district should consult its legal counsel concerning the construction activities completed by Walker’s Electric Company in light of recent concerns raised relating to the validity of the company’s license issued by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.”
The TEA audit came after complaints were filed with the agency, and after the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Texas revoked the Walker’s Electric BBB accreditation.
“The BBB Accreditation revocation for Walker’s Electric Company of Beaumont was due to the businesses failure to comply with the BBB Code of Business Practices Standards for Accreditation,” according to BBB correspondence. “The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation posted on their website final orders listing that Calvin Gary Walker, owner of Walker’s Electric Company, was assessed an administrative penalty in the amount of $5,000 and his master electrician license 75738 was hereby surrendered. Basis for (the order) stated that Mr. Walker falsified information on his application.”
Additional information from the BBB asserts that Walker failed to “establish and maintain a positive track record in the marketplace and honestly represent products and services,” “be free from government action that demonstrates a significant failure to support BBB ethical principles in marketplace transactions,” and “honestly represent products and services, including clear and adequate disclosures of all material terms by making known all material facts in both written and verbal representations, remembering that misrepresentation may result not only from direct statements but by omitting or obscuring relevant facts.”
On the heels of the TEA audit, Calvin Walker II, Calvin Gary Walker’s son, also sparked an investigation by the TDLR pertaining to work he performed on BISD’s West Brook High School campus without proper licensing.
The West Brook offense, according to a final report issued from the TDLR dated Aug. 6, 2012, was brought on by electrical work Walker II performed without a license even though he lied to investigators and said he did, in fact, have a license to do the work. Walker II was assessed a fine of $3,000 and is now licensed as an electrical apprentice.
According to Susan Stanford from TDLR, this wasn’t Walker II’s first offense, either. Detailed reports on any previous offenses, however, were unavailable as of press time.
For Trustee Neild, the unlicensed work and fines levied against the district’s electrical contractor don’t bode well.
“We should have licensed, qualified people to do the work we need done,” Neild said. “We ought to give other tax-paying companies an opportunity to bid on the work, but BISD is trying not to allow that to happen.”
Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.