AP NEWS

Houston Gateway Academy Superintendent, IT specialist charged with stealing

April 5, 2019

The head of a Houston-area charter school and another school employee have been indicted on federal embezzlement charges, accused of siphoning more than $250,000 from the school for themselves and using some of the money to buy a car and condominium.

A grand jury in the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Texas handed up charges against Houston Gateway Academy Superintendent Richard Garza on Tuesday, including 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. Ahmad Bokaiyan, a a technology support specialist at the school, was charged with conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud.

Attempts to reach Garza and Bokaiyan were unsuccessful. An employee who answered Houston Gateway Academy’s phone on Thursday said she had not seen either employee for several days and did not know whether they or whether the school had retained legal counsel.

Houston Gateway Academy, Inc., has more than 2,400 students across three campuses in the Greater East End near Golfcrest. The charter district is working to build a fourth campus just south of Beltway 8 and west of Interstate 45 south.

According to the indictment, Garza awarded a $280,841.85 no-bid contract in 2014 to a group called Hot Rod Systems to build an IT infrastructure at the new school, even though construction on the school had not yet begun. Hot Rod Systems was owned by Bokaiyan. Prosecutors say the two Houston Gateway Academy employees agreed that Bokaiyan would wire some of that contract money into one of Garza’s personal bank accounts. 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 Nissan Armada sport utility vehicle, more than $86,500 to help purchase a condominium and nearly $26,000 to help make payments on a house loan in Cypress.

It is not the first time finances have landed the charter school district in trouble. The Texas Education Agency found in 2013 that the Gateway schools charged parents fees to enroll their children in violation of state law.

shelby.webb@chron.com

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