Sunday, January 12, 2014

BISD problems rooted in unprofessional system in Texas

Two Beaumont Independent School District employees could face up to 10 years in prison after being indicted on federal charges of embezzlement Wednesday.

Finance Director Devin Wayne McCraney, 35, and former Comptroller Sharika Baksh Allison, 43, were named in a 19-count indictment charging them with conspiracy and 18 counts of fraud for allegedly devising schemes in which they embezzled more than $4 million using 18 separate wire transfers to bank accounts under their personal control, according to a press release from the office of John M. Bales, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.

“McCranie and Allison are crooks and should be held accountable,” Bales said at a press conference at the U.S. Attorney’s office, 350 Magnolia Street, on Wednesday.

After receiving several tips, Bales said, FBI agents arrived at the BISD administration building Nov. 7 to investigate allegations that someone set up bogus accounts and diverted district funds. Agents also visited the homes of McCraney and Allison.

According to a 13-page indictment released by the U.S. Attorney’s office, beginning in 2010, McCraney — one of three BISD employees with the authority to make a wire transfer without the authorization of a second person — began wiring money from the district’s Bank of America account to three bank accounts under his control.

In an attempt to make the transfers appear legitimate, McCraney included notations on the transfer instructions such as “Workers Comp Special Funding” and “Tax Adjustment.”

McCraney was responsible for 13 fraudulent transfers totaling $2.7 million.

On April 27, 2012, the indictment stated, Allison registered under an assumed business name of “Milimann Consultants” — similar to Milliman USA, a company that provides BISD with yearly actuarial analysis of its self-insured workers compensation program. Between April 27, 2012, and Aug. 23, 2013, either McCraney or Allison made five wire transfers from BISD’s Bank of America account to a Capital One account owned by “Sharika Allison d/b/a (doing business as) Milimann Consultants.”

The indictment also stated that McCranie and Allison must forfeit “any property constituting or derived from proceeds obtained directly or indirectly as a result of the said violations.”

No trial date has been set for McCranie and Allison, but Bales said they will appear in court next week to ensure they understand the charges against them. After that, the next step is an arraignment, where they will formally enter a plea and the jury will set a deadline for motions to be filed.

Bales said a trial must occur within 70 days of the initial court appearance. But, he said, he doesn’t think the trial will take much time to reach a verdict — and that the verdict will include a prison sentence.

“They were caught red handed,” he said. “The jury should resolve charges pretty quickly — and with the amount of money stolen and the abuse of trust committed, they’re going to prison.”

Bales said there was no evidence of any other employees involved in a case he called “breathtaking in scale and very disturbing in boldness.” He added that he hoped the district filed a claim to regain its funds.

“BISD is the victim,” he said.

A statement released by BISD communications specialist Nakisha Myles said that the district has been made aware of the indictments, and has and will continue to fully operate with all agencies involved.

“Our primary achievement is and always has been the educational achievement of our children,” the statement said. - See more at:

The shocking charges of multi-million-dollar embezzlement at the Beaumont ISD go way beyond the actions of two employees. It is clear this happened - or dragged on for years - because of a sloppy, unprofessional mindset that permeates the district's leadership.

The district has had one auditor for 11 years, when the clear accounting guideline is to change auditors every three years. With a new set of eyes looking at the BISD's books, the alleged fraud might have been detected sooner.

The amount of money allegedly embezzled is hard to determine because BISD has not reconciled its bank accounts since November 2012. Again, that should be done quarterly at the least, and preferably monthly.

It's mind-boggling to think that blunders like this could occur in a major public school district. Yet it's more understandable in a district that often treats tax dollars like Monopoly money, as evidenced by trustee's refusal to claw back $2 million from the Calvin Walker settlement. Or in a district that hires someone like Naomi Lawrence-Lee as assistant director of finance and purchasing after she resigned under pressure as the Jefferson County purchasing agent for misuse of public funds. Or in a district that often doesn't require basic professional qualifications, as in the case of a chief financial officer who isn't a certified public accountant.

In a district like that, embezzlement was a crime waiting to happen. Potential law-breakers could think their offense won't be detected - or worst of all, that some officials simply might not care.

This district desperately needs a forensic audit - and leaders who care deeply about doing the right thing the right way all the time.

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