Trial begins for Nova Academy chief who allegedly got kickbacks for contract

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Nova Academy chief executive Donna Houston-Woods went on trial this week for allegedly steering a construction contract to a firm that gave her kickbacks.

The Dallas Morning News reported that insiders at the charter school with three campuses were surprised when Houston-Woods approved a $337,951 federal contract for ADI Engineering Inc. after the Dallas engineering firm had botched two earlier construction projects.

Prosecutors say ADI owner Donatus Anyanwu paid Houston-Woods $50,000 under the table to secure the contract. In July, Anyanwu pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud for his role in the alleged scheme and intends to testify against Houston-Woods, 65, the newspaper reported.

Houston-Woods said the money she received from Anyanwu was a loan repayment. Her lawyer, Russell Wilson, said on Monday as the trial opened that the botched contract was due to Anyanwu’s “string of broken promises” and suspect business practices.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Fusco said that Nova’s staff and a third-party consultant recommended CMC Network Solutions, the school’s longtime information technology contractor, to complete a 2011 project to wire the company’s newest school for high-speed cable. The project was needed to enable the school to qualify for federal funds under a program aimed at bringing internet services to disadvantaged students.

But Fusco said Houston-Woods chose ADI for the contract, circumventing the bidding process and allowing that company to copy parts of CMC’s bid. The difference in the two bids was $50,000, the same as the amount of the kickback, Fusco said.

Although CMC was hired to fix problems after ADI couldn’t complete the work in time, Houston-Woods signed federal certifications falsely claiming ADI finished the project on its own, the prosecutor said.

ADI was facing two lawsuits for negligence while it was doing the work for Nova, court records show, and eventually filed for bankruptcy.

Houston-Woods remained in her post at Nova as of the school’s September board meeting, the Morning News reported.

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