Education

Portion of $2 million stolen from Crowley schools found during fraud investigation

A portion of the $2 million that was stolen from the Crowley Independent School District in a wire fraud scheme has been found, according to officials.

Superintendent Michael McFarland did not specify how much of the money has been found.

“I want to assure our community that Crowley ISD remains financially strong, and no district projects have been affected by this crime,” he said in a statement released to the Star-Telegram.

The wire fraud charge against a 61-year-old man accused of duping the school was dismissed without prejudice, according to court records, meaning charges could be filed again at a later date.

Donald Howard Conkright — who lives and was arrested in South Florida — was scheduled to go to trial in Fort Worth next month, but on Monday, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas filed a motion to dismiss the February indictment against Conkright.

According to spokeswoman Erin Dooley, “The case was dismissed without prejudice in our district — but the investigation is still open, and Mr. Conkright is subject to prosecution in multiple districts.”

Conkright’s public defender has not returned a call for comment.

Investigators have also said they’re working to identify additional suspects.

McFarland said the district has put numerous safeguards in place to prevent future fraud, “including stronger safety procedures in our finance and technology departments. Every Crowley ISD employee now receives cybersecurity training, and staff members with more access to sensitive information are required to complete additional training.”

On Oct. 24, the director of accounting for the Crowley school district 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 it confirmed it did, it 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 FBI became involved and found that the bank account provided to the district was owned by Conkright. He had no connection to Steele & Freeman or the school district, the documents say.

Court filings accused Conkright of making 51 withdrawals from the account between Nov. 13 and Nov. 18, totaling $1.9 million. He bought Rolex watches and a BMW with the money, records say.

The school district has not said if the faculty member who approved of the payments has been reprimanded.

The district has several construction projects in the works, including the new June W. Davis Elementary School, scheduled to open in the fall. The Bill R. Johnson Career and Tech Education Center and Crowley Collegiate Academy will open next year.

Other projects are the fine arts expansions, North Crowley High gym expansion, Crowley ninth grade addition and a new operations facility.

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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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