SE Texas Record

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Absent PAISD super to testify Thursday in computer fraud case

By David Yates | Dec 10, 2012

Chappell melody

This Thursday, Dr. Johnny Brown will take the stand once again to testify in a lawsuit which accuses the Port Arthur Independent School District of faking damage to computers in an effort to obtain federal funds for new technology. 

As previously reported, Monty Jones — a former member of the Port Arthur School District’s technology department — filed a lawsuit Dec. 7, 2010, in Jefferson County District Court against the school district, Superintendent Brown and head of the technology department Beverly Thornton.

Brown has been on a leave of absence from the district since Oct. 25, but the district has given the public no reason. He testified last Wednesday, but after leaving the stand refused to answer any media inquiries regarding the unknown circumstances surrounding his absence.

Brown will continue his testimony Thursday morning, according to a courthouse official.

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.

In his lawsuit, Jones alleges that 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.

Although Jones claims he refused to participate in the computers’ destruction, 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 for hundreds of iBooks which Thornton reported as damaged. In fact, the iBooks ran flawlessly, the suit alleges.

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 alleges.

After Hurricane Ike in 2008, Jones alleges that Thornton attempted the same tactics again, throwing away more than $15,000 worth of the school district’s functioning computers.

“Plaintiff took photographs of the computers and retrieved the file server from the trash,” the lawsuit states. “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 lawsuit.

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 alleges.

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 (the business owner) to leave, (the business owner) warned Plaintiff that his job was in jeopardy, stating, ‘I’m through with you,’” the complaint says. “‘You are through here.’”

Jones claims that Thornton and other unknown individuals began harassing him, 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 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 is represented by Larry Watts of Missouri City.

Melody Chappell, attorney for the Wells, Peyton, Greenberg & Hunt law firm in Beaumont, represents the district.

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

Case No. B188-922

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