CROWLEY, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - In 2018, Crowley ISD was caught in the middle of a scam that cost them $2 million of taxpayer money.
But the CBS 11 I-Team has learned that recently it received a check for $653,000, money that was stolen by scammers.
Crowley ISD fell victims to a business email compromise scheme.
It received a phishing email that appeared to have come from a company it was doing business with.
The email requested a change of payment - from a check, to ACH or wire payment to a bank in Florida.
No suspicion was raised because the email had the logo, it also appeared to have come from someone who the district employee knew.
One transaction for $522,588.98 and the second for $1,473,126.54 was made to an account in Florida which investigators say belonged to Donald Conkright, a resident of Big Pine Key, Florida.
Fort Worth police detective Casey Allen and FBI special agent Matt Wilkins knew they had to act quickly.
The school district just had lost $1.9 million on what appeared to be a business email compromise scheme.
"In typical cases like this, we see a rapid withdrawal of funds. And we're not talking about days we're talking about hours," agent Wilkins said.
The FBI focused on Donald Conkright and his bank account.
"We saw rapid withdrawal funds via cash at different branches," Allen said. "We saw expensive jewelry purchases, such as about $72,000 for two Rolex watches. We saw vehicle purchase for almost $130,000 we saw large purchases at apple stores. We saw evidence of cashier's checks been withdrawn."
Investigators found withdrawals were made almost immediately following the deposits.
Large amounts were wired to Republic of Uruguay and Mexico. Laptops and other items were sent to Nigeria.
Investigators soon determined that Donald Conkright was a money mule-- a man transferring funds on instructions of someone else. Someone he had possibly never met.
WATCH PART II OF THIS REPORT HERE
WHO IS DONALD CONKRIGHT?
Investigators described Donald Conkright as a loner.
The 64-year-old was man living on social security, in an old RV in Big Pine Key.
"Kind of a lonely guy. Somebody that spent a lot of time on the internet and Facebook in particular, engaging with with people that he had never met before." Allen said. "He was a mechanic by trade but didn't really do any work recently."
In an interview with Agent Wilkinson and Detective Allen, Conkright told them that he did all this for love-- for his girlfriend who was using the name Lola Mullins.
"She told him that she was in line to inherit billions of dollars, and her late parents owned a multibillion-dollar business. She needed a man in her life to collect the inheritance. That's where it began," said Wilkins.
Conkright said he had never seen or met this person even though they'd been dating for about a year. He also said that he believed Lola attended Crowley ISD and that the family was from Texas.
Investigators say the two exchanged more than 25,000 text messages.
Most of his communications wasn't even with Lola. He says he was dealing with someone who he believed was Lola's attorney, a man named David Sanders, an identity investigators believe was stolen from the real attorney.
"These criminals do the research," said Detective Allen. "So David Sanders is actually an attorney in Texas, but he has no connection to the case."
Investigators say the real David and Lola had nothing to do with it. They said in court that their identities were stolen by the crooks.
WHERE DID THE MONEY GO?
Along with wire transfers, Conkright also sent laptops, phones and even this Rolex watch overseas with the money from Crowley ISD, court records show.
Investigators believe that the crooks behind the business email compromise case in Texas were using Conkright and his bank account in Florida to quickly get the money out of the country where it is hard to trace.
But Conkright didn't pass all the money along to Sanders. He kept something for himself.
At some point, investigators say he bought himself a $130,000 BMW with the money.
"The thing that set him apart with us was he didn't feel like he was going to get his fair share of the money," Agent Wilkins said. "He admitted to us was that he took a large chunk of the funds about $130,000 and he bought himself a BMW, because in his own words, he didn't think he was going to get his fair cut."
Conkright says he bought the car because he was asked to do so. In an interview with the agents, he said that his girlfriend made him do it.
Investigators say he also destroyed his phones and erased messages. He also changed his story several times about how he got so much money in his bank.
In 2020, Conkright was tried and convicted in federal court in Florida for money laundering and sentenced to nearly five years in prison.
At trial, his defense attorney said Conkright was a merely victim of a romance scam. He was used by the con artists and blinded by love.
CBS 11 reached out to Conkright in federal prison. He declined to be interviewed for the story.
CBS 11 also made multiple attempts to reach the public defender who represented him in the criminal case.
Conkright has appealed his conviction.
INVESTIGATORS: CROWLEY ISD REPORTED SCAM IN A TIMELY FASHION
The good news is that investigators were able to retrieve some of the money stolen from Crowley ISD.
It has so far recovered about $813,000 from the scammers.
Investigators credit the district for bringing the case to them quickly, one reason why it was able to recover some of the money.
Crowley ISD told CBS 11 in part:
"Crowley ISD immediately contacted authorities in November of 2018 when we learned the district was the victim of a business email compromise scheme. We applaud the FBI and the United States Attorney'sOffice for their dedication in arresting and convicting one of the criminals who stole taxpayer resources from our schools.
After conducting an internal review, Crowley ISD has put numerous safeguards in place to prevent future fraud, including stronger safety procedures in our finance and technology departments.
Crowley ISD employees now receive cybersecurity training, and staff members with access to sensitive information are required to complete additional training.
Crowley ISD remains alert and vigilant as we continue to work closely with authorities to bring the suspects to justice and recover the stolen funds."
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