Extra duty pay of $25k ends in theft trial for BISD staffer

Naomi Lawrence-Lee

UPDATE: Naomi Lawrence-Lee found not guilty

To let Naomi Lawrence-Lee tell it, between September 2012 and October 2013, she was working a lot of hours for the Beaumont Independent School District. So many, in fact, that she earned more than $25,000 in extra pay on top of her administrative-level salary just during that year. According to Lawrence-Lee, she not only worked her 40-hour-a-week job as assistant director of Purchasing and Finance, but she also put in two extra hours every day – four hours on some days – nearly year-round and worked 54 out of 58 Saturdays (including vacation days and holidays) in that timeframe to serve as a go-between for soda concession payments for high school football games.

The problem, according to a state indictment alleging that Lawrence-Lee effectively stole $17,950 of that extra duty pay, is that she wasn’t approved to perform that many hours of work, yet she billed and was paid for it anyway.

In a trial that began Tuesday, July 26, and is expected to wrap up by the end of the week, Lawrence-Lee is accused of theft by a public servant. She emphatically denies the assertion and maintains that she was asked to perform other jobs, as well, to make up that total – she just has no evidence to prove it. But according to her, there is no evidence to prove she wasn’t asked to perform those jobs either.

Lawrence-Lee points to former BISD Athletic Director Rodney Saveat as the person for whom she was working the entirety of the hours in question that she billed BISD. Not so, Saveat said.

He said, she said

According to Saveat, it was Lawrence-Lee who first brought up payment for performing what they called “the Pepsi contract.” Saveat said the purchasing administrator was in charge of making sure Pepsi was paid for soda concessions provided to the three high schools’ football games through each campus’ booster club. Whether his department was responsible for paying for a billing function, he couldn’t be sure, but he agreed to pay it anyway.

So, a placement sheet was drawn up for the 2012 football season. On the sheet, which serves as a request for extra duty pay, a set of duties for a certain time period was outlined, and pay was set at $25 for each hour it would require to perform that job. At some point, the maximum hours estimated for the 2012 football season was set at 200 – well more than the 100-hour estimated use by Pepsi representatives to perform most of the same functions, as well as delivery, set-up, take-down, and weekly inventory. At $5,000, the extra-duty pay approved for payment at 200 hours, Saveat said he was willing to pay up. He was also willing to pay for 204 hours of the same work for a subsequent season of football concession billing. He was adamant, though, that her bill to BISD for an additional 718 hours above and beyond those two agreements was not his understanding of the arrangement.

Lawrence-Lee, however, said she was asked by the athletic director to perform jobs outside the scope of the approved extra duty assignment, which required extra man hours, and she deserved to be paid for the hours that she worked.

“She never had any other jobs,” Saveat said, and he never saw any invoices for any other jobs she was to be paid to perform, he added. None were ever presented at trial, either.

Still, she was paid for the job. Lawrence-Lee’s attorney, Todd Ward of the DeGuerin, Dickson & Ward law firm out of Houston, presented evidence of e-mails from Saveat asking the purchasing supervisor questions relating to purchase agreements in the Athletics Department. Ward suggested that the e-mails constituted Saveat’s request for Lawrence-Lee to perform additional work; Saveat said he was only asking her to do her job.

“I sent her (e-mails) to get some information on purchasing,” he said. “I thought it was part of her job.

“My understanding was to go through the purchasing director to purchase the things we needed.”

To support his claim, the e-mails presented show that Saveat sent the correspondence during hours Lawrence-Lee was on the clock for BISD. Lawrence-Lee later retorted that she performed 75 percent of the extra duty work she was paid for while off BISD premises.

Lawrence-Lee was sketchy on the details as to what that work was.

“We had a good working relationship,” Lawrence-Lee said of her dealings with Saveat. “He began to rely on my efficiency.” According to her, he asked for assistance in purchasing headsets for the coaches, advice on purchasing new turf, and asked her to meet with the three high school football coaches about the purchase of letterman jackets. “Those tasks should have been relegated to his secretary,” she said. “I wasn’t a purchasing clerk.”

According to documents presented in court, Lawrence-Lee allegedly worked constantly for Saveat. Among the times she was paid to work on the “Pepsi contract” was the week of Thanksgiving, the day after Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, although football season had long since ended by that time of the year.

How she was able to secure payment for a job not approved through the proper channels is anyone’s guess, but prosecutors have a theory.

Who you know

According to the prosecution, a friendly face in payroll assisted in securing payment for tens of thousands of dollars otherwise unauthorized. Witness Andrea Raquel Moore, who had to be subpoenaed to show up in court, said she knew Lawrence-Lee since high school, which both attended in Rayne, Louisiana. She couldn’t say for sure on the witness stand that her connection to the supervisor is what got her the job under Lawrence-Lee in purchasing, although according to a statement she provided to the FBI, Moore believed at some point Lawrence-Lee secured her employment.

As a matter of record, Moore said she couldn’t recall much on the stand – at least not for prosecutors. What she did know was that at some point, she left from under Lawrence-Lee’s charge and ended up in the payroll department, where she paid out on the extra duty assignment although the funding administrator (Saveat) had not approved the expenditure.

“We were told to pay,” Moore said after lead prosecutor Cory Kneeland asked to treat the witness as hostile for her avoidance in answering questions. “That was the policy. I did what I was supposed to do – pay.

“I don’t decide whether or not they have the appropriate signatures.”

According to Moore, she paid out lots of extra duty time sheets without the appropriate signatures, adding that “nothing was consistent” as to rules in the payroll department.

In payroll, two supervisors were in charge during the time Lawrence-Lee is alleged to have bilked the district out of thousands upon thousands of dollars – Barbara “Kitty” Andress and Laura Klock. Both stated that there were rules in place to pay extra duty hours only with approved signatures.

While none of the witnesses could or would say for certain that Lawrence-Lee did not at some point work the hours she claimed, no evidence was presented that she was ever asked to work those hours either.

Presiding Judge John Stevens directed the jury to use “common sense” when deciphering the evidence and testimony presented, and rejected three motions by the defense for a mistrial.

A verdict is expected by Friday, July 29. Lawrence-Lee faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the theft by public servant felony charge.