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Published in Print: December 12, 2001, as FBI Ends Corruption Probe That Plagued Dallas District

FBI Ends Corruption Probe That Plagued Dallas District

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The FBI has ended its 4½-year investigation of alleged fraud and corruption in the Dallas school district, a move that district leaders say lifts a cloud of suspicion as they attempt to gain voter approval for a hefty bond proposal.

In a letter sent to Superintendent of Schools Mike Moses last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation officially said its probe of the 164,000- student district, which began in April 1997, had concluded. The inquiry resulted in about 15 convictions, including that of a former superintendent.

"There comes a time when you got to let them move on. Their job is to teach our children, not answer questions of criminality. It's as simple as that," Danny Defenbaugh, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Dallas field office and the letter's author, said last week.

The letter comes as the nation's 10th-largest school district is pushing for passage of a $1.37 billion bond proposal, the largest in the district's history. The bulk of that money would go for new school construction and renovation of existing facilities. Voters will decide the issue next month.

District officials had flirted with the idea of a $1.26 billion bond package in 1998, but board members decided to hold off for fear that public confidence in the school system had been too severely eroded by the ongoing corruption investigation.

Persistence Pays Off

The FBI launched its investigation at the request of then-Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez, who contended that corruption was rampant and that district employees had illegally reaped millions of dollars in fraudulent overtime.

In a strange turn of events, Ms. Gonzalez herself soon became a target of the probe she had called for. In October 1997, she admitted to having spent $9,440 in district money to buy bedroom furniture for herself. She was subsequently forced from her position.

The following February, a federal judge sentenced Ms. Gonzalez to 15 months in prison. Others netted in the probe included a roofing contractor convicted of swindling the district out of more than $380,000 and about a dozen custodial workers convicted of overtime fraud.

Mr. Defenbaugh said he sent the Nov. 19 letter stating the probe had ended in response to a request by the current superintendent, Mr. Moses, a former Texas state commissioner of education. During a meeting with the FBI agent in September, the superintendent asked for a formal announcement to be made on the status of the investigation.

After consulting with the local federal prosecutor, Mr. Defenbaugh agreed to send the letter, even though the bureau normally does not announce the end of an investigation.

"Even though it is not normal policy, in this case, after talking with the U.S. attorney, we both agreed it would be in the best interest [of the school district] because of the extreme media attention received in these cases," Mr. Defenbaugh said.

Mr. Defenbaugh said he also was swayed by Mr. Moses' persistence.

"He said I was the first person he met upon coming to Dallas as a superintendent" in January 2001, Mr. Defenbaugh said. "Normally, a federal law-enforcement official wouldn't be the first person a superintendent meets."

Vol. 21, Issue 15, Page 13

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