A small Texas school district suffered a major blow in 2018, losing nearly $2 million in a business email compromise (BEC) scheme. And a Florida man who helped facilitate the crime is now serving time behind bars.
Two years ago, an employee of a school district near Fort Worth received an email requesting a wire transfer payment for a school construction project.
The school district was building a new elementary school at the time, and the employee sent the money as instructed. However, unbeknownst to the employee, the email was actually from a scammer posing as the construction company. The wiring instructions directed money to an account controlled by criminals.
That’s where Donald Conkright, of Big Pine Key, Florida, came in. Conkright assisted the scammers by using his own bank account to move the ill-gotten gains overseas, helping them profit even more from the BEC scheme in the process. People who commit crimes in this way—even unknowingly—are called “money mules” and are subject to prosecution.
In Conkright’s case, he knew he was helping criminals. Conkright told investigators he started acting as a money mule after getting into an online relationship with someone who requested he move money on her behalf.
“Conkright was a willing participant, and he acknowledged that he was engaging in money laundering,” said Special Agent Matthew Wilkins, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Dallas Field Office. “Although he knew the transactions were benefiting criminals, he made money from it and did not stop.”
The school district contacted law enforcement as soon as it figured out what had happened. Investigators traced the funds to Conkright. He was convicted on money laundering charges in March. In June, he was sentenced to nearly six years in prison.
In a victim impact statement in court, the Crowley Independent School District said the incident led to a budget shortfall for the year.
“It was very devastating to the school district,” Wilkins said. “This is a relatively small public school district, and to lose nearly $2 million was really difficult for them.”
While most of the funds had already been moved overseas, investigators seized more than $600,000 that remained in Conkright’s account. That will eventually be returned to the school district.
Investigators also seized a luxury car, which Conkright had bought with some of his money laundering proceeds. It will be auctioned off, and those proceeds will be returned to the school district as well.
“This is a relatively small public school district, and to lose nearly $2 million was really difficult for them.”
BEC is a devastating and common crime that costs businesses and other institutions more than $36 billion annually. While there are variations on the scheme, they usually involve scammers posing as vendors and asking unsuspecting businesses to wire money.
Money mules are key parts of these schemes because they move profits through their own accounts, shielding the criminals and the cash.
Many mules sometimes think they are participating in victimless crimes. Some think they are moving around money for a friend or as a “job,” but in fact, they are making cybercrime more profitable. This harms individuals, businesses, and communities.
“Putting an additional step between the initial money and the other criminals who are getting the money—it helps conceal who the true actors are,” said FBI Task Force Officer Casey Allen of the Fort Worth Police Department, who also worked the investigation. “It hides who is really sending those emails and helps criminals profit.”