Former Dallas charter school CEO gets seven-plus years in prison for kickback scheme

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A federal judge sentenced former Dallas charter school CEO Donna Houston-Woods to seven years and three months in prison Thursday for accepting a kickback to steer a school technology contract to a friend, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Fusco chided Houston-Woods, 66, during the sentencing for pocketing a $20,000 bonus from Nova Academy after her October trial and asking for a $300,000 severance, a request the school’s board denied.

“She goes right back to the school like nothing happened,” Fusco said.

Senior Judge Sidney Fitzwater said it was “outrageous” that the school board paid Houston-Woods the bonus before she resigned, indicating the payment showed the mismanagement of the school, the newspaper reported. 

A federal jury convicted Houston-Woods of three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. She was found to have received a $50,000 kickback from ADI Engineering owner Donatus Anyanwu to steer a contract to his firm to connect the school to high-speed internet. 

But ADI Engineering botched the job and even after it was clear the firm could not complete the contract, Houston-Woods falsified documents so the firm could continue to receive federal money – and allow her to get her kickback, the Morning News reported.

Anyanwu was sentenced to 30 months in prison before Houston-Woods’ hearing. They are jointly responsible for paying back $337,951 in restitution, the newspaper reported.

Fitzwater noted that Nova Academy is now ineligible to receive more federal funds because its administrator defrauded the program. 

The newspaper reported that Houston-Woods did not apologize during her brief remarks to the judge, instead speaking about how she had given money to needy students and her staff.

“I have never wanted to take anything from anybody,” she said.

A document presented during Houston-Woods’ trial showed that she wagered nearly $110,000 in an Oklahoma casino after receiving the kickback.  

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