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. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura