IDEA sues Texas attorney general for keeping hotel purchase files secret – Progress Times


IDEA Public Schools filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in mid-October, trying to block the release of documents that could explain why the charter school system bought a hotel in Cameron County.

IDEA purchased the Inn at Chachalaca Bend, a boutique hotel in Los Fresnos, in October 2019.

Less than a year later, CFO Wyatt Truscheit abruptly resigned amid questions about inappropriate spending. IDEA decided to audit the financial transactions authorized by Truscheit and other senior executives.

“During this investigation, IDEA’s special counsel reviewed records relating to IDEA’s purchase of a property in Cameron County known as The Inn at Chachalaca Bend,” according to a report. letter from IDEA to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. “IDEA’s special advisor continues to review the purchase of the property and the issues surrounding it.”

IDEA bought the Chachalaca Bend Inn from a nonprofit called To Every Tribe Ministries, according to documents filed with the Cameron County Clerk’s Office. The Cameron County Appraisal District valued the hotel and surrounding property at over $ 1 million.

The amount paid by IDEA remains a mystery.

The hostel at Chachalaca Bend. (Photo by Dave Hendricks / The Progress Times)

The Progress Times filed a public information request with IDEA on May 27, 2021, for all documents relating to or referring to the purchase.

IDEA claimed to have identified 56,386 documents responding to the request.

To process the request, IDEA asked the Progress Times to pay $ 5,830.60. The total included $ 5,638.60 for copies, $ 160 for labor and $ 32 for overhead.

To avoid paying for thousands of copies, the Progress Times asked to see the documents. IDEA responded by requesting a ruling from the attorney general’s office.

“As background information, shortly after the start of calendar year 2020, IDEA was made aware of potential discrepancies in the way the former CFO of IDEA accounted for IDEA funds,” according to a letter. from IDEA to the prosecutor. General’s office. “Immediately upon learning of these potential discrepancies, IDEA initiated an independent audit of financial transactions authorized by several chiefs and directors working at IDEA’s headquarters in Weslaco, Texas. “

IDEA hired San Antonio-based attorney Michael McCrum and forensic auditors to conduct the internal investigation.

“This team of auditors and investigators has conducted a comprehensive multi-year review of the financial transactions of IDEA and those of various chiefs and administrators,” the letter said.

IDEA argued that the 56,386 documents were covered by exceptions to the Texas Public Information Act, including exceptions for pending litigation, law enforcement investigations and working papers d ‘audit.

The attorney general’s office issued a decision letter in September, ordering IDEA to release some of the documents.

Instead of disclosing the documents, IDEA took legal action against the attorney general’s office.

“The Los Fresnos property was purchased in 2019 under the direction of the previous executive,” according to a statement released by IDEA. “Earlier this year, IDEA’s board of directors cleared the property for sale, and IDEA was in discussions with potential buyers.

IDEA also parted ways with CEO JoAnna Gama and COO Irma Muñoz in May.

“IDEA’s board of directors has been forthright about the reasons for its actions in May 2021 to install new leadership at IDEA and for the policy changes the board implemented in 2020 to ensure that every resource entrusted to IDEA is directed towards our mission of supporting students at and through college, ”the statement said. “Members of the media and the public have asked IDEA for certain documents that would further inform the Board’s reasons for these decisions and actions. IDEA is seeking judicial approval to withhold some of these documents at the request of law enforcement and because they are part of an ongoing internal investigation, which triggers an exception to the Texas public information law. . It is in the public interest that the law enforcement investigation and any resulting actions can be completed before these files are disclosed. “

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