A recently released memo from the Houston Independent School District’s outside law firm details for the first time the gift-giving allegations that landed the district in trouble with the U.S. Department of Justice, costing taxpayers an $850,000 fine and students tens of millions of dollars in technology at their schools, reports the Houston Chronicle. The department accused HISD of violating competitive-bidding rules–arguing that the elaborate freebies could influence who got contracts–and in 2006 froze the district’s access to federal funding through the e-Rate program. HISD Superintendent Terry Grier finally settled the case with the federal government in March and, as part of the deal, hired a new high-level compliance officer to monitor questionable conflicts, gifts, and favoritism related to the e-Rate. The federal e-Rate program, which is funded by fees from telephone users, allows schools to apply for funding for discounted hardware and internet access. Richard Patton, HISD’s e-Rate compliance officer, said the district has tightened its policies to forbid employees from accepting any gifts from e-Rate vendors and to require them to report any offers. “There is no tolerance,” said Patton, whose annual salary is $150,000. No HISD employees have faced criminal indictments over the allegations. A similar but apparently more extensive scheme in Dallas ISD resulted in criminal convictions of that district’s former technology chief, Ruben Bohuchot, and a Houston-based business owner, Frankie Wong. Both are now in federal prison on bribery and money-laundering charges after evidence showed that Bohuchot had shared inside information to help Wong’s company, Micro Systems Engineering, land e-Rate contracts in Dallas…

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Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura