Former HISD employee seeks return of $90K seized in FBI raid

BySarah Rafique KTRK logo
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The former Houston Independent School District chief operating officer at the center of an FBI raid in February is asking officials to return $90,000 in cash seized from a safe inside his home.

Court documents filed Tuesday say Brian Busby was "shocked and confused" as federal agents "entered the home with their guns drawn going from room to room," while "Busby and his family stood there in pajamas."

Busby, whose contract with HISD was not renewed this year, had been sleeping when the FBI executed a search warrant at his home in the early morning hours of February 27.

"Busby asked the agent in charge what was going on - what he had done wrong," according to a court document filed Tuesday. "The agent told Mr. Busby he would not discuss why they were there, or what they were searching for, unless Mr. Busby waived his right under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution to be free from police interrogation without assistance of a lawyer."

Busby didn't waive his rights, but still assisted the agents by giving them passcodes to his cellphones, according to court documents. After the agents asked him to disclose any cash in his home, Busby directed them to a safe with $90,150, which was seized.

"Brian Busby started working for the Houston School District as a janitor, and in 22 years he worked his way up to Chief Operating Officer," Busby's attorney Dick DeGuerin said in a statement to 13 Investigates. "In all that time of honest dedication to HISD he never took a penny he didn't earn. We intend to prove that beyond any doubt."

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A six-page federal document filed in September says the funds were seized in connection with accusations that Busby conspired with a lawn and landscaping business as part of a kickback scheme.

"There is reason to believe that the COO conspired with the Contractor and others to cause HISD to approve proposals submitted by the Contractor's business and to pay the Contractor's business for work that it did not perform. At times, HISD employees performed a portion of the contracted work, often at overtime rates," according to a civil forfeiture complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Houston area. "In order to share the criminal proceeds the Contractor obtained from the fraud, the Contractor paid kickbacks to the COO, including cash kickbacks."

The contractor or company isn't named in the court filing, but it does indicate that in February, the FBI also seized more than $95,000 from the landscaper.

In a subsequent filing, Anthony Hutchison requested the $95,000 be returned, claiming the federal government failed to directly connect the seized funds to any alleged illegal activity.

Hutchison is the president and director of Southwest Wholesale LLC and Just Construction Enterprise Incorporated, both companies that do business with HISD. The district has paid both companies more than $11.7 million combined over the last year, according to district records.

Hutchison's attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Busby and Hutchison have not been charged with any crimes.

HISD said Tuesday it has no comment on the case. The district is not listed as a party in the civil litigation involving Busby, but the FBI spent more than three hours at the district's administration building earlier this year as part of its investigation.

As chief operating officer at HISD, Busby oversaw an annual operating budget of more than $260 million and led a workforce of more than 7,000 employees, including facilities, maintenance and operations of school grounds.

He was initially assigned to at-home duty with pay on Feb. 27, after the district learned of the FBI's investigation. In a memo to Busby in May, the district directed Busby not to communicate with any other HISD employees. The district did not offer him a contract for the 2020-21 school year, and his last day with the district was Aug. 31.