Crime

Florida man conned nearly $2 million from Crowley Independent School District in 2 days

Campaign donations — big or small — are crucial at this time of the year.
Campaign donations — big or small — are crucial at this time of the year. Star-Telegram archives

A Florida man is accused of conning nearly $2 million from the Crowley Independent School District over the course of just a couple of days in November, according to federal court records.

Donald Howard Conkright, 61, is charged with wire fraud and was arrested on Dec. 13 in South Florida.

On Oct. 24, the director of accounting for Crowley ISD received an email that appeared to be from an accountant at Steele & Freeman, Inc., a construction company that is a vendor for the school. The email claimed 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. When they confirmed it did, they continued the payments.

The school district sent a payment of $522,588.98 to the new bank account on Nov. 13. The next day, the school district sent the bank account more than $1.4 million, court documents say.

At some point, the Federal Bureau of Investigation became involved and found that the bank account provided to the district was owned by Conkright. He had no connections to Steele & Freeman or the school district, the 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, the document says.

He told employees of his local Iberia Bank branch that he used the money to buy two new Rolex watches. Conkright is also accused of using the money to purchase a 2018 BMW M3.

As a result of the alleged scheme by Conkright, Crowley ISD lost $1,995,715.

In a statement posted by the school district on Tuesday afternoon, Superintendent Mike McFarland said, “On November 20, the district learned that funds intended as payments to vendor Steele & Freeman, Inc., a construction company for the district, were electronically transferred via ACH (Automatic Clearing House) to a fraudulent account instead of Steele & Freeman’s account.

The suspect, who has no connections to Crowley ISD or Steele & Freeman, is accused of posing as an employee of the construction company and asking the district to wire nearly $2 million in payments that were due to the fraudulent account.

Upon discovering this fraud, the district immediately contacted authorities, including the FBI, and began an internal review. Unfortunately, business email compromise schemes like this have become common with other organizations and school districts targeted.”

McFarland said that due to the ongoing investigation, he couldn’t provide additional details.

“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,” he said.

Have you seen any of these 10 most wanted criminals in Tarrant County? Crime Stoppers will pay up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest. Call 817-469-8477.

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Nichole Manna is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she covered crime and breaking news in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas. She is a 2012 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and grew up in Florida.


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