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Black Contractor Alleges Smear Campaign

MARSHALL, Texas (CN) - A Texas school district and two newspapers defamed an electrician by reporting he stole $2 million from the district and pleaded guilty to it, the electrician claims in court.

Calvin Gary Walker sued the Beaumont Independent School District, the Beaumont Examiner and Beaumont Enterprise, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 479 and others on July 16, in Federal Court.

The 32 defendants include BISD board members and a top federal prosecutor, who Walker claims were part of a "smear campaign" that cost him $22 million worth of business.

Walker says in the lawsuit that IBEW agents asked him to join their union after he got his master electrician's license in 2004. He declined, which irritated the union - especially when BISD awarded him a contract in 2006 that for the past 37 years had been held by a union company.

The BISD contract belonged to Walker from 2006 to 2014, his attorney Giugi Carminati said in a statement.

Walker, a black man, says defendant union member Steven Lisle became intent on ruining his reputation. Lisle filed a complaint with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation in 2008, making bogus claims that Walker's master electrician license was obtained by fraud, Walker says.

He continued to win the BISD electrical maintenance contract because he placed the lowest bids, and the union "turned to allies" - defendants John Malcolm Bales, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, and then-assistant federal prosecutor Cory Crenshaw - to prosecute Walker over his work for the school district, according to the complaint.

"In May 2011, the federal government indicted Mr. Walker on 37 counts of fraud relating to his work for BISD," Walker says in the complaint. "In December 2011, Mr. Walker was tried for his alleged fraud on BISD and the government was unable to obtain a conviction."

Rather than retry Walker on the fraud charges, the government went after him for back taxes. He took a plea deal and agreed to pay $661,000 in back taxes and penalties, according to the complaint and his attorney.

Though Walker was cleared of the fraud charges, he says BISD board member defendants Tom Neild and Mike Neil called him guilty in public board meetings.

"Mr. Neil and Mr. Neild repeatedly stated, in public, during open board of trustees meetings, as well as in private, that Mr. Walker was a 'crook,' that he had defrauded BISD, that he had been found criminally guilty of defrauding BISD," the lawsuit states.

Walker claims the newspaper defendants the Beaumont Examiner and the Beaumont Enterprise took those false claims and ran with them, publishing stories stating he had pleaded guilty to defrauding BISD with a billing scam.

Walker says the school district treated him and all minority contractors with skepticism, even as it repeatedly awarded him the electrical service contract.

"The BISD Finance Office, through its CFO, imposed onerous invoicing and recordkeeping requirements on Mr. Walker - and other minority-owned businesses - that it did not impose on businesses owned by whites," the 35-page complaint states.

BISD board-member hostilities toward Walker became so pronounced in 2014 that for the last few months of the contract the district stopped giving him work, Walker says.

Walker says the district's racial animus leeched over to the Jefferson County District Attorney's office, which in January 2014 - under newly appointed DA Cory Crenshaw, the former assistant U.S. attorney - formed a task force with the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate him.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry tapped Crenshaw to be Jefferson County's DA after its former district attorney retired. Crenshaw is now a Jefferson County judge.

"Two months after the creation of the task force, the state of Texas filed a case against Mr. Walker," the complaint states.

Walker has yet to be arraigned on the state charges and he is fighting them based on double jeopardy, his civil attorney said in an email. His criminal defense attorney is Dick DeGuerin, a Houston legend who once defended Tom DeLay and Robert Durst.

Walker says the newspaper defamation and BISD's posting of a document online that falsely states he pleaded guilty to "padding BISD invoices," cost him business contracts worth $22 million.

He seeks $22 million in actual damages for defamation, $300,000 from BISD for breach of contract, and wants those amounts trebled.

Other claims alleged by Walker include tortious interference, contract, conspiracy, civil rights and RICO violations.

The school district, the union and the newspapers did not respond to comment requests.

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