Plea for help in North Forest spending scandal

April 2, 2009 4:52:17 AM PDT
A plea for help in exposing corruption in the North Forest School District, and it's coming from the Harris County District Attorney herself. 13 Undercover broke the story on the special education spending scandal in North Forest and a state audit has questioned $300,000 in spending.

A year and a half later, not one cent has been paid back to the taxpayers, and nobody has been disciplined.

The evidence is overwhelming. The former special education chief at North Forest ISD gave contracts to relatives and friends, some who were unqualified to get them.

"It was rife with nepotism and self-dealing," said Harris County DA Pat Lykos.

Apparently the DA's office wants you to know they are stymied, partially they calim because of vague contracts and the lack of a paper trail justifying what people did for all the money they were paid.

"The bookkeeping was atrocious. There's not even a paper trail to follow. The incompetence of the board and upper management is mindboggling. It's astonishing," said Lykos.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars was paid to Lester Houston's company, whose bills often claimed six parent educators were helping special education parents. We could never find evidence of all six. The DA's office is not commenting.

That's important, because making false statements on a government record may be a crime.

"If you award a contract and there's even an effort to perform, then you have a problem about exposing that as bribery, if you will. So we need witnesses to come forward," said Lykos.

The former North Forest school board approved the contracts. One of the board members OK'd a consultant whose the mother of one of his children.

So far, only one board member has been fined for failing to file campaign reports, even though the DA's office knew they weren't filed a year and a half ago and didn't prosecute.

"You clearly exposed the school board. If you ever wanted the definition of dysfunctional, it was the former school board that was there," said Lykos.

North Forest has faced 30 criminal investigations just by the DA's office

"It was a corruption fiefdom. Bizarre is an excellent word. (It's) surreal," said Lykos

A year and a half after the allegations first surfaced, there have been no criminal charges, no North Forest employees even disciplined. The former special education director has been suspended with pay for six months now, making $7,000 a month to stay home.

Tiffany Jones, a North Forest ISD parent, is left wondering why. Her daughter Imani is one of the victims of the spending scandal.

"So everything is OK that they keep the money? No one can give the money back? I'm sorry. I'm at a loss for words. I'm just shocked," said Jones.

"We owe you a great debt of gratitude for exposing all the wrongdoing going on out there," said Lykos.

All that alleged wrongdoing and all that waste, yet so far the DA's office can't seem to find a crime.

"We need the public's help. We need the people in the district who care about district to help us," said Lykos.

North Forest says its internal investigation will be finished in a couple of weeks. Don't worry, we'll be asking for it.

If you have information on the North Forest School District, you're asked to call the Harris County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit. The phone number is 713-755-8330.

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