DRC_Dave_Lieber_headshot_2016.jpg

Dave Lieber

If you owe a company money and someone from the company calls and says they’ve changed bank accounts and seeks payment from you, what are you going to do?

At Crowley ISD in Tarrant County, an employee sent $2 million.

At Galveston County, an employee sent $525,000.

In both cases, the money went to scammers.

In both cases, taxpayers’ money has not been recovered.

So far, it’s not been reported that anyone lost their job in these two separate incidents.

You may be thinking, too bad, so sad. At least it’s not me.

But it could be you or someone in your family or company.

I present this story today to show you that the solution to this is so incredibly simple that it’s shocking. But for some reason people don’t want to do it.

First, the details.

At Crowley, the email looked like it came from an accountant for Steele & Freeman, a Fort Worth construction company building an elementary school and a career technology center.

The company was changing banks, he wrote. Please send a test payment of $1.

The test payment worked. After that, $2 million flowed out in two separate disbursements.

The alleged recipient, Florida man Donald Howard Conkright, told his bank the money came from his girlfriend’s inheritance, arrest records show.

He rushed out and bought a $128,000 BMW and two Rolex watches for $70,000, arrest records say.

The district has not released much information on the incident or conducted any kind of internal investigation that’s been made public.

Spokesman Anthony Kirchner tells The Watchdog “there is no new info to share other than the FBI investigation is ongoing.”

In one public statement, Superintendent Michael D. McFarland promised that the district “remains financially strong.”

He added, “Unfortunately, business email compromise schemes like this have become common with other organizations and school districts targeted. “

Outrage in Galveston

Crowley may be quiet, but in Galveston County, the top elected official, County Judge Mark Henry, is raising a much-needed stink about the mess.

He’s upset that the county commissioners, which he leads, do not have the authority to punish or remove staffers in the county treasurer’s and county auditor’s office.

Henry wants the auditor and purchasing agent fired. But the auditor reports to six state district judges, the purchasing agent reports to the purchasing board, and the county treasurer is elected by voters to a four-year term.

Henry hired an outside company to investigate why $525,000 that was supposed to be spent on road work likely ended up in the hands of scammers, possibly in New York City.

Scammers pretended to be from Lucas Construction in League City.

When the scammers were arrested for other crimes, detectives found the Crowley ISD internet protocol number on the suspects’ computer, Henry said. No one has been charged.

Dawson Forensic Group of Lubbock investigated and reported back that the suspects used an email address that almost matched actual email addresses, but a few letters were changed.

Which department was supposed to validate vendors wasn’t clear, the report found.

Investigators recommended that the county buy software that sends an alert when incoming email addresses are changed slightly.

A key finding in the report: “Our report fails to assign blame to a single department or even a single individual associated with Galveston County. This is based on our conclusion that a department or individual cannot be held accountable for noncompliance with processes that may not have been properly designed or that did not exist.”

“The money is long gone,” the county judge said. FBI investigators told county investigators that the money was funneled to Kenya, and then on to Nigeria and Dubai, he said.

Taxpayers in Galveston “are very upset, and they have every right to be,” Henry said. “If you don’t pay your property taxes, you lose your home. But a county employee can’t even lose their job. That seems like a very unfair double standard.”

Simple solution

I promised an easy way to prevent his. The judge and one of his constituents lay it out.

“They were changing the bank, and no one raised an eyebrow?” Henry asked. “No one picks up the phone and says, ‘Really? Y’all are moving your bank to Florida?’ This easily could have been prevented.”

Galveston resident Jeff Taylor wrote a published letter to Galveston’s newspaper, The Daily News:

“If a person and company have a history and then all of a sudden the respected company sends an email saying. ‘Send my money somewhere else,’ that would be an invitation for a common sense approach to the ‘old school’ way to pick up the phone and call to verify.

“In the age of scams associated with ever-changing technology, the art of common courtesy, common sense, common decency and face to face communication is lost. ... The simple answer was to pick up the phone and verify. Please include that procedure in the new protocol.”

Well said, sir.

Pick up the phone.

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