Former Houston ISD COO Brian Busby and Landscaping Company Owner Anthony Hutchison Charged

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) – The former chief operating officer of Houston ISD and a landscaping company owner who contracted with the district have been charged by the federal government with charges of public corruption in in connection with an alleged bribe totaling approximately $ 6 million over a seven-year period.

The FBI office in Houston on Thursday announced the arrests of Brian Busby, the former district executive, and Anthony Hutchison, who has been identified by the government as a HISD contract provider.

The pair made their first appearance before a U.S. investigating judge on Thursday afternoon, and were released, with Eyewitness News cameras filming them exiting the courthouse in the early evening.

As part of their bail terms, Busby and Hutchison were ordered not to have contact with current or former HISD employees or any other witnesses in the case. Prosecutors allege that the two men tried to intimidate witnesses into lying to investigators.

Last year, 13 investigations reported on FBI search warrants executed at Busby’s home and HISD headquarters after allegations of mismanagement came to light.

Court documents later said Hutchison, allegedly working with Busby, overcharged the district for work he was hired to do but never completed.

“Busby reportedly helped award HISD construction and land maintenance contracts to Hutchison in return for cash bribes and hundreds of thousands of dollars for home renovations,” the office said Thursday. United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

Busby’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, denied the allegations.

Last year, the district decided not to renew Busby’s contract amid the allegations.

Several other former HISD officials have admitted their guilt in the case, according to the FBI.

Former HISD Board of Education chairwoman Rhonda Skillern-Jones had already reached a plea deal related to the conspiracy charge and could face up to five years in prison. Other former HISD officials including Derrick Sanders, 50; Alfred Hoskins, 58; Gerron Hall, 47; and Luis Tovar, 39, also entered into a plea deal on the conspiracy charge and also face up to five years in prison.

“Today’s arrests and related charges are the result of a long and multifaceted investigation by the FBI in Houston,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard A. Collodi said in a press release. “Houston taxpayers and the thousands of students at HISD, along with their teachers and staff, are the potential victims of this alleged multi-million dollar public bribery scheme. accepting bribes, and those who pay bribes. “

Busby started working at HISD in the late 1990s as a caretaker. As he progressed through the ranks he was then appointed COO in December 2016. He was responsible for overseeing over 7,000 employees and an annual operating budget of over $ 250 million.

In an unsealed warrant in May, federal officials allege Busby was engaged in a bribe program with several vendors, including Southwest Wholesale and Just Construction, which later changed its name to Just Partners Construction.

Hutchison owns these two companies.

Southwest Wholesale began providing limited gardening and landscaping services to HISD in 2010.
In 2016, the company won a contract for grounds maintenance, landscaping, tree pruning, and removal and irrigation systems for some schools in the district. The contract was valued at $ 26.8 million and was due to be extended until January 2021, according to court documents.

“Busby and his colleagues asked HISD grounds maintenance workers to do the work that had been assigned to Southwest Wholesale, thereby providing Southwest Wholesale with the HISD workforce,” the search warrant reads. “Meanwhile, Busby, through his direct reports, has asked his managers to authorize and approve overtime pay to get HISD grounds maintenance workers to do the job.”

One of the first examples of Southwest Wholesale not completing work came in March 2018, when the playgrounds at Sharpstown Middle School were awarded a contract for $ 984 million renovations. This amount was paid in full despite the fact that not all work was completed, according to court documents.
The HISD athletic director expressed “concerns about the high price,” but confirmed Busby by giving the contract to Southwest Wholesale, according to court documents.

The sports director later discovered that the work, such as installing ramps, tracing fields and planting new trees, had not been done.

The FBI also found that Southwest Wholesale was charging for mowing work at other schools, although the work was not completed.

In a statement, HISD said it was cooperating with the federal investigation into the allegations that took place between 2011 and 2020.

“From the moment HISD learned of the federal investigation in February 2020, HISD provided the information requested by law enforcement regarding the investigation. As this criminal investigation progressed, HISD also put in place additional internal procedures to guard against the type of alleged conduct. in the charges announced today. No person charged under the indictments announced today is currently employed by HISD, ”the district said. “HISD fully respects the criminal justice process, and HISD cannot comment further on the facts underlying the investigation or the charges announced today pending resolution of these charges.”

This is a developing story. All updates can be found here.

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Terri S. Tomasini