Former charter school official sent to prison for embezzling funds

By: U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas
| Published 04/09/2021

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HOUSTON, TX -- The former superintendent of Houston Gateway Academy has been ordered to federal prison after taking more than a ¼ million dollars, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Richard Garza, 61, Houston, pleaded guilty Sept. 20, 2019.

Today, U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. sentenced him to serve 60 months in prison to be immediately followed by three years of supervised release. He was further ordered to pay a $20,000 fine and restitution in the amount of $191,292 to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). At the hearing, the court noted Garza led a double life and had a desire for taking money from others which got him into trouble and led him to his situation today.

Houston Gateway Academy is a charter school located in the Gulfgate area of Houston. While superintendent, Garza awarded a contract to a company whose owner then sent funds back to Garza.

As part of his plea, Garza admitted he awarded a $280,000 no-bid contract to Ahmed Bokaiyan. Bokaiyan was an IT employee at the school who also owned a business called Hot Rod Systems. Bokaiyan, through his company, was to provide IT equipment and services to a new school not yet constructed.

An audit revealed Garza paid three checks totaling approximately $252,757 to Hot Rod Systems before it completed any work. Shortly after Bokaiyan received the payments, he sent approximately $164,381 via wire transfer to Garza’s personal bank account. Garza then used some of the funds to purchase a New Nissan Armada SUV and a condominium located on Gentryside Drive in Houston.

Garza was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

Bokaiyan, 58, Houston, had also pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme and was ordered to pay $156,595 in restitution.

The Department of Education-Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation with the assistance of the TEA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Quincy L. Ollison is prosecuting the case.

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