Former Detroit Public Schools Superintendent William Coleman III is accused by a grand jury of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes when he worked in Dallas in exchange for steering technology contracts to a Houston businessman.
Coleman, 52, who was fired by Detroit Public Schools in March, was named in an indictment unsealed Tuesday along with Ruben B. Bohuchot, 59, of Dallas. Bohuchot was chief technology officer for the Dallas Independent School District while Coleman was that district's deputy superintendent and chief operating officer in 1999 and 2000.
Also charged in the alleged $39 million bribery and conspiracy case is Houston businessman Frankie Logyang Wong, 46, accused of lavishing the two school officials with cash and other gifts.
Coleman, whose ties to Bohuchot sparked controversy in connection with a Detroit Public Schools technology contract last summer, did not return calls Tuesday to his cell and home phones.
"If there is an indictment, I am absolutely positive that Mr. Coleman will be fully exonerated," said Coleman's Michigan attorney, Bertram Marks. "Mr. Coleman is cooperating with the FBI to root out corruption. He certainly has not been a part of the corruption."
Marks was referring to a lawsuit Coleman filed this month against Detroit Public Schools saying he was ousted for asking the FBI to look into financial irregularities in the district's Office of Risk Management. Board president Jimmy Womack has said he believes the case Coleman filed has no merit.
Marks said he has received no official notice of the indictment, which charges Coleman with conspiracy, money laundering, bribery and obstructing justice.
The most serious charge, conspiracy to launder money, carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Though Coleman was fired, he will continue to receive the remainder of his $225,000 pay and benefits from Detroit schools through June 30, when his contract ends. His successor, Connie Calloway of Normandy, Mo., will start July 1.
The board had determined that Coleman wasn't qualified for contract renewal, and he was ousted immediately because the board questioned whether he would be effective as a lame duck.
Feds detail case
Coleman had not surrendered to federal authorities in Dallas by late Tuesday, despite indications from his attorney that he would, said Ofelia Perez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney in the northern district of Texas.
Marks said he has not talked with Coleman directly, but he will be with the ex-superintendent in Dallas today where "he will present himself to the authorities so he can declare his innocence."
In the Texas indictment, Coleman is accused of setting up a company, Kenbridge Consulting Services Inc., that allegedly received payments totaling $256,850 from Wong's company, Micro Systems Engineering Inc.
Coleman and Bohuchot are accused of providing inside information to help steer contracts to Wong, including one that paid Micro Systems more than $35 million.
Another Wong firm bought a $305,000 yacht that was used on four occasions to entertain Bohuchot in Key West, Fla. Wong company credit cards paid for Bohuchot's entertainment expenses, and Wong used an intermediary to funnel other bribes to Bohuchot, the 16-count indictment also alleges.
Coleman, as Bohuchot's friend, was a facilitator who, along with his wife, was also entertained on the yacht in Key West, the indictment alleges. Coleman's company billed Wong for phony marketing services that were never performed, according to the indictment.
Coleman faces obstruction charges for telling the FBI and the grand jury the payments he received from Wong were actually loans.
DPS weighed action
The announcement of the indictment comes about eight months after the Detroit school board weighed action against Coleman after they said he misled them about his relationship to a technology vendor vying for a contract here.
At the time, Bohuchot attended a pre-bid meeting purporting to represent a bidder, according to district documents. Board members said Coleman at one point denied knowing Bohuchot but later admitted they were friends.
A company associated with Bohuchot won a portion of the contract, but it was later rescinded.
Federal officials in Detroit would neither confirm nor deny Tuesday whether Coleman is under investigation for his conduct in a controversial technology contract awarded by Detroit Public Schools, but district officials said they are no longer investigating that deal.
Board members had mixed reactions after learning about the Texas indictment from The Detroit News. "I'm not surprised, only from the standpoint that the FBI has been conducting an investigation for quite some time," said board vice president Joyce Hayes-Giles, referring to the Texas case. "I assumed that they had enough information to assume that there was something going on there." Board member Paula Johnson said she was shocked to learn of the charges against Coleman.
"I know Mr. Coleman to be a man of great integrity," she said. "I'm really surprised to hear that. My prayers are with him and his family."
Detroit deal controversial
The controversy erupted here when Detroit Public Schools awarded a $58 million, five-year deal to four firms in July 2006, allowing a contract with Detroit-based Compuware Corp. to expire.
Compuware Corp. and Strategic Staffing Solutions, another Detroit firm vying for the tech job, alleged the district used flawed methods to pick vendors. Among the complaints: district documents showed that one of the winning bidders received the lowest score of firms competing for the tech deal.
The board later rescinded a portion of the contract and offered to give some of it to Strategic Staffing Solutions and another firm, but Strategic Staffing Solutions rejected the offer.
At the time, Cynthia J. Pasky, the company's president, urged the district to restart the tech bid "from scratch."
She could not be reached for comment Tuesday, nor could representatives from Compuware.
Marks, Coleman's attorney, insists that Tuesday's indictment doesn't prove any wrongdoing on Coleman's part.
"Let's be very clear that if there is an indictment, that is only an allegation," he said. "That doesn't mean anything. I don't want the public to get confused."