Elite million-dollar fraud squad fails to land even one indictment
Former government agents, law enforcement executives, IRS officials--most of whom held top secret security clearances; these are just some of the qualifications dotting the resumes of DISD's most elite and perhaps its most secret department.
The Office of Professional Responsibility hired its first employee, Donald R. Smith, Jr. on February 26, 2007.
Since then, its documented budget has soared to almost $1.5 million dollars a year.
According to information received from DISD through an open records request, 20 employees (currently being pared down to 7) have been associated with or assigned to the department (though the records themselves indicate confusion).
Their combined salaries exceed the $1.4 million dollar mark--leading to questions as to whether the true cost of the department's operation will ever be known.
So what does the department actually do?
The OPR was created in the wake of the District's procurement card scandal.
Its purpose, at the time, was to investigate fraud--including a pledge by District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa that OPR was his mechanism for getting tough on those who abused the District's procurement cards.
According to sources at DISD, the ongoing procurement card investigations really never materialized.
Trying to get to the bottom of what the organization actually does, Dallas.Org submitted an open records request asking for "front page" information from all police reports where OPR had something to do with the investigations along with "activity reports, summaries, statistical documents or other correspondence evidencing services performed by the Office of Professional Responsibility."
When we asked for confirmation that the elite fraud-fighting unit had only called the police 4 times in its year-and-a-half existence, DISD officials clarified the number was actually 11 times. Many of the cases were taken directly to the District Attorney's office as opposed to being routed through DISD's police department.
Whatever the case, to date, none of the investigations conducted by OPR has resulted in a prosecution. One case was referred to the grand jury where it was "no-billed."
As for the four police reports furnished to Dallas.Org, only one of the incidents actually mentioned theft. The report was closed by DISD police without a prosecution being filed.
Another report was made as the result of an OPR investigation involving "offensive [and] harassing" letters (including drawings/pictures of sex organs) left for teachers at a DISD elementary school. After producing what sources inside DISD called a "voluminous report" on the matter, the case was supposedly dropped.
According to sources in DISD, the culprit was believed to have been a student.
According to OPR Investigator Pete Nielsen, the elite fraud-fighting unit reports exclusively to Hinojosa and Human Development Director Kim Olson. The unit produces no executive summaries or briefs. OPR Director Donald Smith, verbally updates Hinojosa in bi-weekly meetings.
DISD Board members, most notably Lew Blackburn, have complained about the inability to get information about OPR and what it does.
Nielsen disputes this. "There's nothing secret about what we're doing."
OPR has recently been the focus of two high-profile television investigations.
In one, WFAA Ace Reporter Brett Shipp uncovered that OPR conducted an investigation into allegations by teachers that a student's grades were being changed to make him eligible to compete in basketball. OPR investigators dismissed the allegations (read the story).
In response to the story, however, Hinojosa decided to commission an outside investigation.
In another, Shipp found that OPR conducted an investigation of a DISD principal who allegedly started rumors about Hinojosa having an affair with a teacher (read the story).
The teacher was ultimately demoted after OPR's 64-page investigation found that she had gossiped to 4 employees instead of two.
Hinojosa defended OPR's work to Channel 8.
"We have highly credentialed people there," Hinojosa told Shipp. "They've worked in very important organizations, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation; they are highly credentialed."
In response to the increased scrutiny, OPR is preparing an "annual report" on its activities. The report is expected in early November.
Office of Professional Responsibility Employee Resumes
The following resumes were furnished in connection with an open records request and may reflect employees no longer with the department.
- David R. Barrientos
- Charlene C. Burroughs
- Dana L. Davis
- Norman Roland Epstein
- Shirley Griffin
- Sharion Jackson Marshall
- Cynthia F. McAlister
- Frank A. McCammon
- Peter D. Nielsen
- Charles Pearre
- Sally Salinas
- George J. Santowski
- Donald R. Smith, Jr.
- Rex B. Stewart
- Robert E. Walters
- Bruce G. Weaver*
* Note: According to Nielsen, Weaver was never part of OPR. District records may be in error.