Former employee alleges PAISD committed fraud to get new computers

Kelly Holleran Dec. 15, 2010, 1:11pm

In recently filed court documents, an Orange County man accuses the Port Arthur Independent School District of faking damages to computers in an effort to obtain federal funds for new technology.

Monty Jones -- a former member of the Port Arthur School District's technology department -- filed a lawsuit Dec. 7 in Jefferson County District Court against the school district, its superintendent Johnny E. Brown and its technology department head Beverly Thornton.

Alleging that he witnessed acts of destruction to the school district's laptops, Jones claims the district's technology personnel performed numerous illegal actions in an attempt to gain money for new computers.

After Hurricanes Ike and Rita struck Port Arthur, the school district seized the opportunity and reported numerous computers as damaged when, in fact, they survived the hurricanes in tact, according to Jones' complaint.

Following Hurricane Rita in 2005, Thornton ordered Port Arthur technology staff to travel to different campuses throughout the district and to pick up 800 desktop and laptop computers, which would later be delivered to the district warehouse, the suit states.

"Thornton directed technicians to separate out approximately one hundred laptops by placing 'blue dots' on them as if they were broken," the complaint says. "She ordered technicians to destroy them, even demanding that water be poured into the hard drive if necessary."

Although Jones claims he refused to participate in the computers' slaughter, he alleges he witnessed it. Later, inspectors with the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived to assess the damage to the computers and bequeathed $960,000 to the school district for new laptops, according to the complaint.

In addition, FEMA issued a reimbursement of hundreds of iBooks which Thornton reported as damaged. In fact, the iBooks ran flawlessly, the suit states.

After receiving reimbursement for the iBooks, Thornton sold them to her crony, Philip Hayhurst, the owner of a computer repair business, the complaint says.

"Hayhurst then 'fixed' and sold the iBooks, raking in profits," the complaint says.

After Hurricane Ike in 2008, Thornton again attempted the same tactics, throwing away more than $15,000 worth of the school district's functioning computers, the suit states.

"Plaintiff took photographs of the computers and retrieved the file server from the trash," the complaint says. "It worked perfectly.

"When Plaintiff asked Thornton why the computers had been thrown away, she joked, 'Don't get me thrown in jail.'"

Not only did Thornton attempt to illegally gain money following natural disasters, but she also attempted to cheat the contract system, according to the complaint.

For example, in May 2008, Jones was in charge of acquiring bids for about $200,000 worth of PAISD computer scanners, Jones claims. Although the bids were supposed to be sealed, Thornton tried to convince Jones to provide insider information to a private company in an effort to ensure it received the contract, he claims.

Because Jones refused to assist Thornton in her scheme and recommended a different company for the contract, their relationship quickly soured, according to the complaint.

Enraged by the loss of a contract, the owner of the private company approached Jones the following day, screaming at him for not helping to secure the contract, the suit states.

"When Plaintiff finally ordered Coletti to leave, Coletti warned Plaintiff that his job was in jeopardy, stating, 'I'm through with you,'" the complaint says. "'You are through here.'"

Sure enough, Thornton and other unknown individuals began harassing Jones, assigning him work outside the scope of his job duties and leaving vulgar notes on his desk and computer screen, the suit states.

In addition, Jones discovered several missing items from his desk and discovered a cable shaped into a small hangman's noose left at his workspace, according to the complaint.

Jones claims he attempted to approach Thornton about the threats he was receiving from unknown parties, but before he could, she offered to transfer him to another location.

Despite Thornton's offer, Jones decided to report the harassment to a higher source, but was later approached by Jefferson County deputies, who ordered him to stay away from the school, according to the complaint.

During Jones' absence from the school, employees rifled through his office and took some of his personal belongings, the suit states.

School employees began to frame Jones for stalking, using photos he had taken of a fellow employee's home and study as a basis for their allegations, the complaint says.

"Plaintiff explained to Thornton and (district lawyer Melody) Chappell that he had made the photos to document an installation he had made of the school's electronic equipment at Brown's home," the suit states. "He wanted to show other employees how he had set up Brown's complicated system."

On June 2, 2009, following the allegations, the Port Arthur Independent School District fired Jones, according to the complaint.

In his lawsuit, Jones alleges wrongful discharge and claims the school district violated his constitutional rights.

He seeks a judgment that Brown and Thornton violated his rights secured by the Texas Constitution and a judgment that Brown and Thornton were not acting as professional employees. In addition, Jones seeks damages, attorney's fees and costs.

He will be represented by Larry Watts of Missouri City.

Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th District Court, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. B188-922

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