By Joshua Benton
An administrative assistant to Wilmer-Hutchins’ maintenance director said Tuesday that she watched her boss destroy a stack of purchase orders that he asked her to assemble.
She said the maintenance director, Wallace Faggett, said he was acting on direct orders from Superintendent Charles Matthews.
The district’s police chief confirmed that he found a stack of torn-up purchase orders in a trash bin behind the district’s maintenance building last Wednesday, matching the story of Walterine Hardin, the administrative assistant and a former internal auditor in the district.
Texas Education Agency auditors – already in the district investigating its finances – said that they have found evidence of document tampering and that a criminal investigation is under way.
After a board meeting Tuesday night, Dr. Matthews denied he had ordered any documents destroyed.
“No, never,” he said. “I’ve been very supportive of the TEA, and I’ve told my staff to do the same. We have nothing to hide.”
Mr. Faggett declined to answer questions about the destroyed documents.
The Dallas County district attorney’s office said it is leading a new multi-agency investigation into the allegations.
“We have received some additional information and are coordinating an ongoing investigation into various allegations of wrongdoing” in the district, spokeswoman Rachel Horton said.
She declined to say what other agencies were involved.
Ms. Hardin, a 10-year employee of the beleaguered school district, said she got a call last week from Mr. Faggett.
She said he told her “the superintendent wanted us to destroy some documents – anything with former maintenance director Gerald Henderson’s name on it.”
In a report Aug. 30, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) focused on why Mr. Henderson’s $30,000 annual salary remained in the district budget even though he has not worked since 2002 because of a disability.
The station also reported that Mr. Henderson’s signature was found on a Wilmer-Hutchins purchase order from April. Mr. Henderson said he did not sign the order.
Ms. Hardin said she did as she was told, gathered up a “medium stack” of purchase orders and handed them to Mr. Faggett. “He tore them up in front of us,” she said.
Ms. Hardin was the district’s internal auditor from 2002 until earlier this year, when she was reassigned as Mr. Faggett’s assistant.
She said that after talking with TEA representatives, they asked her to file a report with Wilmer-Hutchins ISD police.
Chief Cedric Davis confirmed the report was filed Wednesday. After receiving it, he and a TEA auditor went to the trash bin and found the torn documents. He said he found about 40 torn purchase orders with Mr. Henderson’s name on them, some recently signed. He said he turned the documents over to the district attorney’s office.
State law says it is a crime when a public employee “willfully destroys, mutilates, removes without permission … or alters public information.” Punishment can include a jail term of up to three months and a fine up to $4,000.
The TEA auditors arrived in Wilmer-Hutchins on Aug. 30 after a run of problems. First, storm damage and poor maintenance at the high school postponed the start of classes. Then, two weeks ago, the district ran out of money and couldn’t meet payroll.
On top of that are a host of other management problems and perhaps the worst academic track record of any district in the state.
Last week, Dr. Matthews pledged the district’s full and complete cooperation.
“They’ll get whatever information they want,” he said. “They are here to help us.”
The auditor’s job is taking longer than some in the agency had expected. TEA spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman said the auditors will remain in the district through this week and tentatively into next week.
Originally, TEA officials had said their on-site investigation could conclude in four or five days. But Tom Canby, TEA’s managing director of school financial audits, warned last week that it could take substantially longer than that.
This is not the first time document tampering has been alleged in the district. In 1996, federal agents from the FBI and IRS raided district headquarters and seized boxes of financial records. Agents interrogated employees about allegations of shredding, but no charges were filed.
A few months after that raid, TEA took over Wilmer-Hutchins, sending a state management team to run the district’s operations. TEA officials have said they will consider a similar takeover once the auditors have filed their final report.