Indicted State Rep. Dukes remained Austin ISD contractor despite revoked business charter

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AP Photo/Harry Cabluck

 

The business license of a company owned by state Rep. Dawnna Dukes was revoked in January 2016 for failure to file franchise tax returns, yet she remained as a primary contractor for the Austin Independent School District.

Dukes, who was indicted by a Travis County grand jury in January on corruption-related charges, held a contract with the district from 2012 to earlier this year to coordinate the district’s use of minority contractors.

Former AISD district trustee Paul Saldaña said the recently revoked business charter of a contractor “would have definitely gotten the attention of the board.”

Dukes’ contract was ended at the start of the year, shortly before her indictment. She was paid $253,000 a year since 2013, district records show, receiving over $1 millon for a series of one-year contracts.

Saldaña, who stepped down from the board of trustees last month, said there was no knowledge of Dukes’ business status among board members.

“The only way it would have come up would be if someone brought it to my attention, and in my two and a half years on the board, no one did. But it would be something I would have liked to have known as we moved forward.”

Regarding whether Dukes had a responsibility to inform the district of the status of her business license, her spokesman Colin Strother said, “I don’t know that she didn’t inform them. You’d have to ask AISD that. She has no control over how AISD runs its business.”

Dukes’ contract was ended when the district created its own HUB program. News reports casting doubt on the efficacy of the work of D.M. Dukes & Associates are also cited as a reason for the end of the contract.

At the state level, all vendors are required to be in good standing with the state with an active franchise tax account.

The removal of a business license “means that the business does not exist,” said Chris Bryan, a spokesman for state comptroller’s office. “I would think that they could not get insurance as a company. I don’t know how the school district checks the status of a contractor, but at the state, we go and run a check to make sure they are in good standing.”

The revocation in 2016 was the third time Dukes has had her business license yanked for failure to file tax statements. State records show the license for D.M. Dukes & Associates was also revoked in July 2006 and February 2014.

After her license was revoked in early 2014, Dukes filed the appropriate documents and was reinstated several months later.

In an email, AISD spokeswoman Tiffany Young said, “when making an award to vendors, the district completes reference checks, verifies business name and ownership and, when appropriate, checks Dun and Bradstreet to verify financial standings.  The District’s standard contracting procurement practice does not include contacting the State Comptroller’s Office to check standing of the business franchise tax returns and payments. The District will certainly investigate the business standing on a case-by-case basis if an inquiry is made.”

As she carried out her contract with Austin ISD, Dukes was pursued by the state for allegedly tampering with a governmental record, a felony.

Before her January indictment, Dukes struck a deal with prosecutors to hold off on the charges.

The motivation behind her deal was to allow her to serve her full term and enhance her state pension, increasing her annual payout by $3,220 to $74,060.

As part of that deal, she agreed to step down from office and waive the three-year statute of limitations on her alleged crimes, which occurred in the fall of 2013.

She reneged on the deal and in January, was sworn in to her 12th term. Prosecutors filed the indictment several days later.

Dukes filed a motion to dismiss the case, based on the expiration of the statute of limitations, a time frame that was extended by the agreement with prosecutors that she failed to honor. The motion was denied and Dukes entered a not guilty plea.

“The defendant’s clear intention was to waive the statute of limitations…until she was able to resign January 10, 2017, allowing her to receive a much greater pension from the state of Texas,” a filing last month from the state contends. “However, she changed her mind and was sworn into office January 10, 2017. She wanted the benefit of the bargain when she signed the statute of limitations waiver. Having entered into this agreement, she must now accept its consequences.”

The lawyer who negotiated the waiver agreement, Fort Worth attorney Michael Heiskel, declined to comment.

Dukes is scheduled for a June 30 court appearance.

Contact Steve Miller at [email protected] or 832-303-9420.

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