Leader of Houston charter school charged with embezzlement

Leader of Houston charter school charged with embezzlement

Richard Garza, superintendent of Houston Gateway Academy, a 3-campus network, has been suspended after he was named in a federal indictment.

Houston charter school chain has indefinitely suspended its superintendent after he and another employee were accused of embezzling funds from the school.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Richard Garza, superintendent of Houston Gateway Academy, and Ahmad Bokaiyan, an information technology specialist with the charter, have been accused of siphoning more than $250,000 from the charter school network in 2014.

Both men have been suspended. Neither Garza nor Bokaiyan will be allowed on school property, and their access to school equipment, documents and materials has been revoked. Francisco Penning, chief of academics and leadership development at the charter network, has been named interim superintendent.

Bob Wynne, an attorney for the school, says the school will work to assure parents, students and the community that it remains committed to serving its students.

"The allegations, if true, are completely contradictory to the fundamental mission, objectives, and purpose of the school," Wynne says. "Accordingly, the Board of Directors, as well as the entire school community, takes the allegations extremely seriously and views this matter with the utmost concern." 

Houston Gateway Academy opened in 1999 with two classrooms, its website says. By 2016-17, it had more than 2,300 students from preschool through high school attending classes on three campuses. It has plans to build a fourth campus.

Garza has been indicted in federal court on one count of conspiracy, two counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, three counts of wire fraud and two counts of engaging in monetary transactions involving criminally acquired property. Bokaiyan was charged with conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud.

Investigators say Garza awarded a $280,841.85 no-bid contract to a group called Hot Rod Systems to build an IT infrastructure at a new school, even though construction on the school had not yet begun. Hot Rod Systems was owned by Bokaiyan. Prosecutors say the two agreed that Bokaiyan would deposit some of that contract money into one of Garza's personal bank accounts, and within days of receiving the contract money from Garza, Bokaiyan wired the superintendent $164,381.

The indictment alleges Garza used more than $50,000 of those funds to buy a new sport utility vehicle, more than $86,500 to help buy a condominium, and nearly $26,000 to help make payments on a house loan.

 

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