The City View school district in Wichita Falls has struggled with financial problems for years. Now the district’s longtime tax collector has been charged with theft of more than $300,000 and is out on bond following an apparent suicide attempt.
“The district was asking for it,” said Superintendent Tony Bushong, who came to the district last year. Tax collector Judith Ann Heaston was paid around $35,000 a year, worked alone, and “had no one watching over her,” Bushong said.
He told The Texas Monitor earlier this year that the 1,100-student district, with just two schools, was in a financial crisis because of the spending of his predecessor, Steve Harris.
State education agency investigators issued a subpoena in late 2017 seeking Harris’ credit card statements. Harris was gone by the time the troubles were found and no charges were brought.
Part of the problem, Bushong said, is the confidentiality agreement the school board signed with Harris, a standard procedure between districts and superintendents that often impedes investigations of possible improprieties.
Then earlier this month, he discovered that the district’s tax delinquencies were inordinately high, reaching $500,000.
No one thought Heaston, who had been at the district for over 20 years, would steal.
“It was the last thing we wanted to think, I felt guilty even considering it,” Bushong said in an interview with The Texas Monitor. Investigators found the theft had been going on since at least 2002. Heaston was arrested Feb. 6 and charged with theft of over $300,000, a first-degree felony. The total amount of the theft has not yet been determined, but the amount is at least $323,000, Bushong said.
He asked Heaston about the discrepancies and she told him she would get back to him. She later texted him an ominous mea culpa: “I can’t forgive myself, so I am leaving this earth to save the school and my family the embarrassment and humiliation.”
According to the Times Record News, the superintendent notified law enforcement officers, who arrived at Heaston’s home to find her sitting in an idling car in the garage, windows up. She was pulled from the car, treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, and released. She is free on $75,000 bond.
School board members earlier this year announced the district will seek voter approval for $10 million in bonds for building repairs and other infrastructure improvements.
As a tax official, Heaston was bonded at $50,000. Bushong said the district is examining its insurance policies to see if any of the missing tax collections can be recouped.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].