A Texas school district has been swindled out of nearly $2 million after officials were persuaded to wire funds to a bogus bank account.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that a Florida man, Donald Howard Conkright, 61, was arrested last week and charged in federal court with wire fraud in connection with electronic transfer payments made in November by the Crowley Independent School District. Crowley is about 15 miles south of Fort Worth.
On Oct. 24, Crowley's director of accounting received an email that appeared to be from an accountant at Steele & Freeman, Inc., a construction company that is a vendor for the district. The email asserted that it was providing updated banking information for Steele & Freeman for payments the school district owed the company.
The school district initially sent a $1 payment to the account to make sure it worked. After that transaction was successful, the school system continued the payments.
It sent a payment of $522,588.98 to the new bank account on Nov. 13, and on the next day, it wired a payment of more than $1.4 million, court documents say.
From Nov. 13 to 18 Conkright made 51 withdrawals from the account totaling $1.9 million. He also transferred $750,000 to another bank account owned by him and about $70,000 to K Jewelers, court records state.
He told employees of a bank in Florida that he used the money to buy two new Rolex watches. Conkright also is accused of using the stolen money to buy a 2018 BMW.
The district learned on Nov. 20 that the funds meant for Steele & Freeman had been transferred to a fraudulent account. In total, the Crowley district lost $1,995,715.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation was notified and determined that the bank account in question was owned by Conkright. He had no connections to Steele & Freeman or the district.
In a statement on the district's website, Superintendent Mike McFarland says administrators are working with authorities to recover the stolen funds.
"Upon discovering this fraud, the district immediately contacted authorities, including the FBI, and began an internal review," McFarland says. "Unfortunately, business email compromise schemes like this have become common with other organizations and school districts targeted.
Due to the ongoing investigation, we are not able to provide additional details at this time. I want to assure our community that Crowley ISD remains financially strong and is working to prevent future fraud schemes by reviewing our systems and putting additional safeguards in place."