by Jon Schuessler
In July of 2002, the school board of Riverview Gardens took a gamble. They hired Henry P. Williams, a man with a checkered past, as their superintendent. Williams had lost jobs as superintendent in Syracuse, New York, Little Rock, Arkansas and Kansas City before coming to St. Louis.
Unfortunately, Williams also liked to gamble. During his tenure at Riverview Gardens, he visited the riverboat casinos an average of 190 days each year, and lost over $176,000.
Williams also liked to travel. The board let him use district money to fly across the world. He visited faraway cities such as London, UK and Cape Town, South Africa.
He wasn’t the only one to go sightseeing, however. Board members, administrators and teachers had a free hand to travel as well. The district spent at least $1.7 million over four years on travel expenses.
In 2006, after numerous requests by local taxpayers, the state performed an audit, which was released in March of 2007. The school board removed Williams after the audit revealed that he had embezzled $100,000 for his life insurance fund, and diverted money to his daughter, his girlfriend, and her family.
In the end, the real gamblers – the taxpayers – had lost their bets.(Click here for newspaper coverage of the scandal)
Williams pled guilty in county court to theft and tax fraud shortly after his removal. He spent 30 days in jail, and then was released on a 10-year probationary sentence.
Williams was ordered by the court to repay $102,724 to the district, and $300,000 in unpaid taxes.
The state audit blamed not only Williams, but the entire leadership of the district for lavish spending and poor documentation. The district’s cash reserve had fallen from $12 million to $1.6 million in just five years.
Despite fiscal mismanagement, nepotism, and traveling an average of 8 times a year on the public dime, no school board members were held accountable for the district’s demise.
Henry Williams died on April 23rd, 2012, at age 70. He still owed $30,000 to the district and $275,000 in taxes.
The gambling habits and criminal acts of Williams, among other school and state officials, prompted the Missouri Gaming Commission in 2009 to add certain civil servants to their “blacklist” of people who are banned for life from casinos.
The list, started in 1994, had formerly only contained the names of mobsters and career thieves.
The Riverview Gardens School District, nearly bankrupt, failed to meet state standards and lost its accreditation in 2007.
It has never recovered.(Click here for the story of Williams' death)
Jon Schuessler is a Volunteer leader in Jefferson County, and the chairman for Missouri Volunteers for Government Reform, a Political Action Committee (PAC) of the Volunteer Movement. Click here to read his bio or contact him.