Thursday, May 28, 2015


FBI's investigation focused primarily on concrete vendor - Brooks Contractors FORT WORTH, Texas - Federal authorities have been negotiating possible plea agreements with one or more of the targets of a four-year investigation into corruption and other wrongdoing in the Fort Worth school district's construction program, according to several sources associated with the probe. If a deal is completed, it will involve the first charge brought against a participant since a federal grand jury handed down its initial subpoenas in August 2000. The sources, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from federal authorities, are potential witnesses in the investigation and were all in a position to have direct information about the probe. The Star-Telegram could not confirm the names of those discussing plea agreements. Ronald Eddins, the assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the investigation, did not return telephone calls about the negotiations, nor did he respond to a letter seeking comment. Calls to the U.S. attorney's office in Dallas also went unreturned. The plea negotiations don't necessarily indicate an end to the federal investigation. Just last month, the district received yet another subpoena asking for records of its business dealings with two additional area vendors. The probe now includes officials from several federal agencies. The scandal has led to the early retirement of four district maintenance supervisors, has pushed the school board into turmoil and has tarnished the reputation of Superintendent Thomas Tocco, whose contract will end in December. 

The FBI's investigation has focused primarily on a Fort Worth concrete vendor, Ray Brooks, who owns Brooks Contractors, and his relationship with two former school employees: Associate Superintendent Eldon Ray and Maintenance Executive Director Tommy Ingram. A Star-Telegram analysis of payment records found that Brooks was paid more than $24 million for concrete work from 1997 to 2002, much of it in increments just under $25,000, the minimum contract for which bids are required. An external auditor determined that Brooks may have been overpaid $4.8 million for work he performed on five projects. A more complete audit of all Brooks' work has not been commissioned. Calls to Ingram and Brooks were not returned and their respective attorneys both declined to comment on possible plea agreements. Ray could not be reached at his home, but he has repeatedly declined to comment for previous articles pertaining to the investigation. Since the investigation began, its scope has widened to include two more area contractors, Fort Worth-based Briscoe Construction Corp. and J&L Construction of Newark. Both companies performed construction work for the district. The grand jury also requested the personnel records of nine district maintenance employees, including two more former maintenance supervisors, Eddie Franklin and Ralph Cano. 

The most recent subpoena, dated Jan. 12, requested computer records and documents on Jimmy and Lois Jenkins, who own J&L Construction and Seamless Aluminum Guttering. The district was also instructed to turn over billing records, contracts, construction drawings and other similar documents pertaining to Allied Fence of Fort Worth and to Grady Young, owner of D&Y Welding and D&Y Trailers of Alvarado. A copy of the subpoena was released to the Star-Telegram in response to a request made under the Texas Public Information Act. Jimmy Jenkins, reached at his home, said he did not know why the documents were requested. He declined to comment further. Camille Chandler, office manager for Allied Fence, said her company has provided fence supplies to the district's maintenance department over the years. A federal agent came to the office about a year ago to peruse purchase orders from the school district, she said. "They wanted to see who had signed all these tickets," Chandler said. Similarly, Young said he didn't know why his companies showed up on the subpoena. He said his company has done some work for the district over the years, mostly repairs on trailers. He said he also might have sold Ray a trailer. The plea negotiations are in advance of possible indictments. If completed, at least one of the deals would most likely end with the U.S. attorney's office filing what is known in federal court as an information, according to experts on federal criminal procedure. In that scenario, prosecutors would charge a suspect directly instead of asking for an indictment from a federal grand jury.

 Terri Moore, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Fort Worth who is now a defense attorney, said she does not have specific knowledge about the possible agreements, but said most have standard language that delivers a desired outcome for both sides. "Prosecutors want it because they want cooperation," she said. "And the reason the defense attorney wants it? It's usually one paragraph that says the U.S. attorney's office won't bring any additional charges out of this." If an agreement is signed, the individual could provide information on others involved in wrongdoing, Moore said. Even with the negotiations, potential witnesses are being told that a trial may still be possible. River Oaks Mayor Herman Earwood, who was the school district's director of central purchasing for maintenance, said he has not been given reason to believe that he won't be called by the prosecution to testify in a trial sometime this year. "I look forward to it," Earwood said. Despite the periodic delivery of subpoenas to the district administration building on University Drive, the investigation has taken place amid much upheaval in federal offices in the Fort Worth area. The FBI agent handling the case has changed twice, and the lead prosecutor has changed once, district records show. Perhaps more significantly, the FBI had to move just as the investigation was intensifying because a tornado destroyed its office in the Cash America International building on March 28, 2000. And FBI agents nationwide had to make anti-terrorism work a priority after 9-11. District officials began to publicly question whether anything would come of the FBI's work or whether any wrongdoing might have passed the statute of limitations. Now, however, potential witnesses say the investigation appears energetic and focused. 

Investigators from the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service have joined prosecutors and FBI agents on the case. Fort Worth insurance agent Ben Morrison said that when he was questioned late last year about his bonding work for Brooks, about a dozen federal authorities sat in. Moreover, the statute of limitations shouldn't be a big problem, said Guadalupe Gonzalez, the FBI special agent in charge for the Dallas division, which includes Tarrant County. For most corruption-related charges, the statute of limitations is five years from the last crime, including any acts of conspiracy to conceal them, Gonzalez said in an October interview. Gonzalez said that sometimes investigations take a long time to ensure that agents develop evidence that will lead to a conviction in federal court. He said he tries to ensure that agents don't spend years on an investigation that doesn't lead to charges. "All I can say is that sometimes it does not go as fast as you might like," Gonzalez said. 

Inquiry timeline Federal authorities have been investigating wrongdoing in the Fort Worth school district's maintenance and construction work for four years. The investigation has centered on two former top administrators, Associate Superintendent Eldon Ray and Maintenance Executive Director Tommy Ingram, and their relationship with Fort Worth concrete contractor Ray Brooks. 

• AUG. 10, 2000: A federal grand jury requests documents for work performed by Brooks' two companies, Brooks Contractors and Goldstar Concrete.
 • OCT. 11, 2001: School district administrators publicly acknowledge the federal investigation. 
• NOV. 13, 2001: School board President Gary Manny announces that an outside auditor will be hired to investigate district construction contracts.
 • SEPT. 29, 2002: The Star-Telegram reports that Brooks did personal concrete work for Superintendent Thomas Tocco, former Associate Superintendent Eugene Gutierrez, Trustee Judy Needham and Ray.
 • OCT. 26, 2002: A district investigation accuses Fort Worth contractor Leonard Briscoe Sr. of altering signed contracts in an effort to obtain more money for six school construction projects. 
• DEC. 16, 2002: Ingram and two maintenance supervisors, Ralph Cano and Eddie Franklin, choose to retire after the Star-Telegram reports that Ray, Ingram and Cano visited casinos on district time.
 • JAN. 9, 2003: District officials announce that they found pornography on the computer assigned to Ingram but said others had access to the machine.
 • JAN. 27, 2003: An external auditor determines that the district may have overpaid Brooks by $4.8 million for concrete work at five schools.
 • FEB. 3, 2003: A subpoena requests documents related to Newark-based J&L Construction Co., which built fences for the district. Another subpoena asks for the personnel files of nine maintenance employees.
 • FEB. 11, 2003: The school board votes to sue Brooks Contractors.
 • FEB. 12, 2003: A subpoena requests all documents from the district's internal investigations of Ingram, Franklin and Cano.
 • OCT. 26, 2003: Brooks tells school district lawyers that he did personal concrete work for Ingram.
 • NOV. 17, 2003: A subpoena requests all documents related to six contracts awarded to Briscoe Construction Corp.
 • JAN. 12, 2004: A subpoena requests all documents for Allied Fence of Fort Worth, as well as for companies owned by Grady Young of Alvarado.

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