Allegations of financial malfeasance at Dallas Independent School District’s (DISD) Department of Capital Improvement in 2016 prompted an internal investigation conducted by experienced investigator Andrea Whelan of the district’s Office of Internal Audit.
Her 30-page draft report on the allegations, completed in late 2017, concluded that at least one district employee repeatedly violated Texas law in an effort to evade state requirements for public competitive bidding on construction contracts for taxpayer-funded projects valued at $500,000 or more, as previously reported in The Dallas Express.
Whelan’s findings were forwarded to her boss at DISD’s Office of Internal Audit, chief internal auditor Mike Singleton. A cover letter on the draft suggests that the report was subsequently sent to the controversial then-superintendent Michael Hinojosa.
A separate probe by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) had already found in favor of DISD.
Still, during the course of her investigation, Whelan allegedly discovered that district employees and high-ranking officials made significant misrepresentations to TEA in response to the whistleblower complaint lodged against supervisors at the Department of Capital Improvement.
She further recommended to her superiors that law enforcement officials be notified so that a criminal investigation could be conducted.
However, Whelan’s report allegedly never saw the light of day.
In an interview with WFAA conducted in November 2018, Whelan claimed that supervisors at the Office of Internal Audit suppressed her findings and retaliated against her for what she discovered during her investigation.
She said that her report was rejected by higher-ups at her office, who then claimed that she needed remedial training, despite the fact that she was a 25-year veteran of the IRS who specialized in investigations and retired with the rank of Special Agent in Charge of the Dallas office.
“I was pretty much back to trainee status,” Whelan said. “I pretty much couldn’t walk [and] chew gum at the same time at that point.”
DISD’s sitting Board of Trustees in 2018 claimed that it never received a copy of Whelan’s original draft report, only a five-page memo from Singleton that purported to represent Whelan’s findings.
Superintendent Hinojosa also denied ever seeing Whelan’s report, telling WFAA, “I’ve been made aware of none of that information,” despite his being listed as the intended recipient of the draft report.
Unlike Whelan’s report, Singleton’s memo did not conclude that public servants at DISD deliberately — and potentially criminally — circumvented district rules and state laws.
Instead, following consultation with an outside legal counsel, Singleton claimed that the district rules and state laws did not “provide the detailed guidance necessary to definitively determine compliance.”
“Therefore,” Singleton wrote, “we cannot say the transactions reviewed [at the Department of Capital Improvement] were unallowable or inappropriate.”
The memo, dated August 14, 2018, further stated, “The individuals that held primary responsibility over the questioned transactions are no longer employed with the district. This has aided in relieving the possibility of continued transactions that may cause questions.”
Singleton then proceeded to review a litany of irregularities in purchasing, which he reasoned were caused by DISD’s failure to impose consistent purchasing protocols.
He claimed that “inconsistent processes and documentation as to why certain procurement paths were chosen can create reputational risk in the perception they give to the public and stakeholders (i.e., parents).”
He resigned from his position as chief internal auditor the month after the memo was released to enjoy the “retired” life, according to his LinkedIn page.
“In my view, there’s just rampant corruption that I feel is ignored,” Whelan said, suggesting that officials cared more about protecting DISD’s reputation than correcting potentially criminal behavior or protecting district taxpayers.
She had not seen Singleton’s memo until sitting down for her interview with the local news outlet.
“I believe it’s a cover-up,” she said after reviewing the memo. “I mean, what can you think? They wanted to cover it up.”
The Dallas Express will continue spotlighting this saga to bring increased transparency and accountability to local institutions, especially the public school system.
As hardworking and sincere teachers try to provide Dallas’ next generation with quality education, alleged scandals, bureaucratic mismanagement, and potential negligence risk undermining those efforts entirely.