Former HISD secretary convicted of starting fire to avoid meeting, ordered to pay restitution

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Friday, August 11, 2023
Former Houston ISD C.E. Barrick Elementary secretary pleaded guilty of stealing school activity funds
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A former elementary school secretary, who was responsible for the school's finances, allegedly set a fire in the conference room of the front office.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A former Houston ISD secretary pleaded guilty this week to stealing about $35,000 in school activity funds and will have to pay the money back, as well as damage from a small fire that she set to divert attention, according to Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.

Adriana Castorena-Narvaez pleaded guilty and was convicted of felony misapplication of fiduciary property Thursday in return for five years of felony probation and $37,521.64 in restitution to HISD.

"Investigating and prosecuting white-collar crime takes time, experts and resources, and it is a priority of our office," Ogg said. "It is important to the integrity of our public institutions that we seek justice in cases where someone has been stealing taxpayer money, and, if possible, to see that the money is paid back."

If Castorena-Narvaez fails to repay the money or breaches any of the terms of her probation, a judge may revoke it and send her to prison. The third-degree felony of misapplication of fiduciary property is based on monetary value and carries a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.

She worked in the administrative office of C.E. Barrick Elementary School for three years and was able to divert the funds, Ogg's office said.

RELATED: HISD school secretary sets fire to avoid meeting with principal over missing money, docs state

In October 2022, the elementary school's principal got suspicious and called Castorena-Narvaez to address questions. In fact, she ignited a small fire before pupils came on campus for the day, causing minimal damage to the school, according to prosecutors.

The HISD Police Department investigated the case with assistance from the HISD Office of Ethics and Compliance. The fire was investigated by the Houston Fire Department's Arson Division.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Buss, a chief in the DA's Public Corruption Division, prosecuted the case.

"The Harris County District Attorney's Office is committed to ensuring public funds are not misappropriated by government employees," Buss said. "This case brings a just result for the students, parents and teachers of C.E. Barrick Elementary."