By: Roy Douglas Malonson

Lately it seems that there has been a series of leaders and executives being exposed for corruption in their companies. Corruption is nothing new and there has always been some degree of exploitation from the higher ups in business and even in running the country. But maybe it’s time to ask the big question: are we actually putting qualified people in positions of power, or is nepotism, money, and status all the qualifications we need?

One of the best examples of a powerful but unqualified leader is Donald Trump. Though Trump was a multi-billionaire and a mogul in the world of entrepreneurship, his money and status didn’t hide the fact that Trump had no experience as a politician. Trump’s lack of qualification as the president of the United States had a devastating impact on the social climate of the nation that can still be felt today and will take years to heal. Trump allowed his personal prejudices to lead the country into an era where racial and social justice has taken a step back. His cult-like followers cannot be contained, not even by him, and has inadvertently led to events like the insurrectionist attack on the capitol earlier this year, the unjust murder of Ahmaud Arbery and protestors gunned down by Kyle Rittenhouse, who walked free without answering to his crimes.

But not all corrupt leaders start off with status and power. Former chief operating officer of the Houston Independent School District, Brian Busby, worked his way up from a janitor to his executive position. Recently, Busby was indicted for taking cash bribes from a landscaping contractor who overbilled HISD by $6 million. Busby and HISD contract vendor Anthony Hutchinson were arrested for public corruption.

A man who took years to work his way up from extremely humble beginnings to a position of power blew it all by allegedly robbing Houston taxpayers and HISD students. We have to ask why. Where did Busby go wrong? Is he an example of giving too much power to the wrong people?

On Dec. 14, a federal grand jury returned the indictment against Busby, 43, and Hutchison, 60.

And they are not alone in this. Several other former HISD officials have also admitted their guilt in the same corruption case.

“We will not stand idly by when there are people in positions of trust who are suspected of such wrongdoing. We will consider any matter our law enforcement partners bring us involving suspected fraud, waste and abuse of power by those in whom we have placed our faith and confidence and work to hold them accountable,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery said.

Former HISD Board of Education president Rhonda Skillern-Jones, 39, Houston, had entered a plea agreement, as well as several other former HISD officials. Those officials include Derrick Sanders, 50, Missouri City, officer of construction services; Alfred Hoskins, 58, Missouri City, general manager of facilities, maintenance and operations; Gerron Hall, 47, Missouri City, area manager for maintenance (south); and Luis Tovar, 39, Huffman, area manager for maintenance (north).

The 26-count indictment charges Busby and Hutchison with conspiring to engage in a bribery scheme. Busby allegedly helped award HISD construction and grounds maintenance contracts to Hutchison in return for cash bribes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in home remodeling.

According to the indictment, Hoskins, Sanders, Hall, Tovar and Skillern-Jones conspired with Busby and Hutchison to accept bribes from Hutchison for helping to award, or not interfering in the award of, HISD contracts to Hutchison.

Operating as Southwest Wholesale, Hutchison allegedly entered long-term contracts with HISD to provide grounds maintenance to schools. The indictment alleges that from 2011 to 2020, Hutchison systematically overbilled HISD and inflated bills for services, causing millions of dollars in loss to the school district. Hutchison paid a portion of his fraudulently boosted profits to Busby in the form of cash payments and free home remodeling, according to the charges.  

According to the indictment, Hutchison also obtained purchase orders for construction, repair, landscaping and maintenance jobs at particular HISD schools. Hutchison obtained these jobs by paying cash bribes, mostly in the form of kickbacks, to HISD personnel who assisted him in obtaining business with HISD, according to the charges. Those allegedly included Busby, Sanders, Hoskins, Hall, Tovar and Skillern-Jones.

According to the indictment, once Busby and Hutchison learned of the federal criminal probe, they took steps to interfere in the investigation.

Sanders, Hoskins, Hall and Tovar have admitted they helped award, or refrained from interfering in the award of, HISD jobs to Hutchison, typically at Busby’s insistence. As part of her plea, Skillern-Jones admitted that, in return for bribe payments from Hutchison, she caused an expenditure of funds for school landscaping and construction projects to be placed on a 2017 HISD Board agenda and voted to approve it. They were eventually awarded to Hutchison. In her plea agreement, she admitted Busby personally delivered thousands of dollars in bribe payments to her from Hutchison.

During execution of search warrants in 2020 at the homes of Busby and Hutchison, authorities allegedly discovered over $186,000 in cash. The indictment gives notice of the government’s intent to forfeit these sums as proceeds of the charged crimes.

Busby and Hutchison are charged with conspiracy, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and witness tampering. Hutchison is further charged with wire fraud. If convicted, they face up to five, 10 and 20 years, respectively, for the conspiracy, bribery and witness tampering charges. Hutchison also faces up to 20 years for each count of wire fraud.  Busby and Hutchison are presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

Hoskins, Sanders, Hall, Tovar and Skillern-Jones have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charges. They face up to five years in prison. All of the charges also carry a $250,000 maximum possible fine.

The FBI and the IRS – Criminal Investigation are conducting the investigation.

So, leading back to our original position.  It takes experience to be a dependable leader. To be trusted in a position of power you need prior experience of leading with integrity. Even though Busby came from rags to riches, was it his lack of access to power that led him astray when he finally made it into an executive position?

It’s time to place power into the hands of people who have proven time and time again that they are qualified to lead with honesty and for the good of the group. From our local officials to national leaders in office, it’s time to look less at status and more at the quality of leadership.

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