EducationLocal NewsFormer Houston School District Officials Indicted for Bribery Scheme

Former School Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones has entered a plea agreement while two others were arrested Thursday in Houston.
December 16, 2021
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A federal grand jury has indicted Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) former chief operating officer and another individual on multiple charges related to an alleged bribery scheme involving former HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigations’ (FBI) Houston office announced that authorities had arrested former chief operating officer Brian Busby and contract vendor Anthony Hutchison on Thursday. The two were set to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison Thursday afternoon.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, the 26-count indictment stems from a kickback scheme in which Busby allegedly helped award school district construction and grounds maintenance contracts to Hutchison in exchange for cash and “hundreds of thousands of dollars in home remodeling.”  

Skillern-Jones, who was elected to the Houston Community College Board of Trustees in 2019, has already filed a plea agreement along with other former HISD officials Derrick Sanders, Alfred Hoskins, Gerron Hall, and Luis Tovar. All face up to five years in prison.

In her guilty plea, Skillern-Jones admitted that, in return for bribe payments from Hutchison, she had an expenditure of funds for school landscaping and construction projects placed on a 2017 board agenda and voted to approve it. She also admitted Busby personally delivered thousands of dollars in bribe payments to her from Hutchison. 

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Skillern-Jones was also named in a 2019 Texas Education Agency investigation report in which she was described as one of several trustees who engaged in “trustee overreach” that included “directing, influencing, or interfering…in the areas of operations, contracting, grievances, and personnel.” 

Last year FBI agents raided Busby’s home and seized $90,000 in cash in relation to the investigation, but his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, claimed that Busby was a “high-stakes gambler” who had won large amounts of money.  

The indictment unsealed Thursday gives notice of the government’s intent to forfeit a total of $186,000 in cash seized from both Busby and Hutchison.

Hutchison allegedly entered into long-term contracts with HISD to provide grounds maintenance for schools, but systematically overbilled HISD and inflated bills for the services by millions of dollars between 2011 and 2020. He then allegedly paid a portion of the profits to Busby in the form of cash and free home remodeling.

Prosecutors also allege Busby and Hutchison attempted to interfere with the investigation.

“Today’s arrests and related charges are the result of a lengthy, multifaceted FBI Houston investigation,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard A. Collodi in a statement.

“Houston taxpayers and the thousands of HISD students, along with their teachers and staff, are the potential victims of this alleged multimillion-dollar public corruption scheme. The FBI will continue to work to hold accountable public officials who fail the citizens of their community by accepting bribes, and those who pay bribes.”

The FBI notes that anyone with information about the HISD scheme or any other public corruption crimes affecting the greater Houston community may report at [email protected] or call 1-800-CALL-FBI or go to tips.FBI.gov to give information anonymously.

Update: Rhonda Skillern-Jones resigned from the Houston Community College Board Friday afternoon. A number of local leaders including state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) had called for her resignation following news of her guilty plea this week. Skillern-Jones had also worked for Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1), but reportedly her employment there ended shortly after the indictments were announced.

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.