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North Texas education charity accused of misusing funds

Questions are being raised about a Tarrant County-based charity called Score a Goal in the Classroom, and where it spends the millions of dollars in donations it has received since 2000.

News 8 Investigates

ALEDO -- Questions are being raised about a Tarrant County-based charity and where it spends the millions of dollars in donations it has received since 2000.

The charity is called Score a Goal in the Classroom. Its contributors are some of the biggest names in philanthropy in Fort Worth, including the Amon Carter Foundation, Walmart, Chesapeake Energy, and BNSF Railway.

A former Fort Worth city manager and school superintendent sit on its board.

Score a Goal in the Classroom's logo

Ernie Horn, a well-liked, fatherly figure in education circles in Tarrant County is the founder and executive director of the charity.

Horn has raised more than $5 million for books and supplies over the past five years to help kids learn to read, according to his IRS tax filings.

Horn said he awarded hundreds of thousands of students and educators with awards like cars, cash, go-carts, laptops, and trips to restaurants and tickets for sporting events.

Horn is most active in his elementary school book giveaways -– more than 300,000 books in 2014, he said.

But when News 8 reached out to the more than two-dozen North Texas school districts listed at Score a Goal charity partners, only a few said they kept track of that information.

It’s unclear where all the books are going, but at least one of Horn’s neighbors said he has an idea.

Ken Laterza (left) and Greg Davis

“This stuff just floats into our yard,” said neighbor Greg Davis, holding up a book page with burnt edges. “It’s a child’s book that’s being burned.”

Davis and Ken Laterza live on either side of what Horn calls his “fort” – a western-themed fantasy ranch adorned with crosses and decorated with dressed mannequins, tattered American flags, and Native American paintings on the walls.

They said the construction of Horn’s “fort” appears to be funded in part by proceeds from Score a Goal. Davis said a contractor who had done some work for Horn showed him a copy of a check Horn used to pay him.

“I saw a copy of the check that was written from Score a Goal in the Classroom,” Davis said.

Laterza moved in next door to Horn about four years ago, after purchasing the house from him. He found several paint cans in his new garage bearing Score a Goal labels.

A paint can with a Score a Goal label.

After News 8 contacted Horn seeking answers to our questions, Horn invited us to his Aledo “fort,” which serves as Horn’s home, as well as Score a Goal in the Classroom’s headquarters.

He showed us two storage barns filled with dusty boxes of dated books, some of them covered in rat droppings. “Gently used” is how Horn describes the books inside.

As to the allegations charity money is used to build his personal fort? Horn denies it.

"You can't find a cent here,” Horn said, pointing toward the buildings that make up his fort. “The charity’s money all goes to pay the bills."

One of Ernie Horn's storage barns filled with boxes of books.

Horn then showed News 8 his charity’s financial records, but warned, “My office got broke into and some files got stolen.”

Horn first said his personal expenses and the charity’s expenses are being paid for out of the same account -- a practice most charities consider unacceptable.

“It’s not 'best practices' for a non-profit to do this," said Matthew Viola, a senior program analyst with the non-profit rating agency Charity Navigator.

Later, Horn said his personal credit card account and the charity’s bank account are kept separate.

Yet, according to a Score A Goal bank statement from December 2014, Horn paid off an $11,475 personal credit card bill. Horn claims he reimbursed the charity.

“None of my personal charges were paid by Score a Goal,” Horn said.

Ernie Horn's "fort" in Aledo.

On March 29, after repeated requests, Horn provided WFAA with a bank statement dated Jan. 8, 2015 that appears to reflect a $2,047.88 payment to American Express to cover his personal expenses incurred in December 2014.

Horn says the $11,475 payment to American express from the Score a Goal bank account was to cover the charity’s expenses the previous month.

News 8 still has numerous unanswered questions about the charitable nature of many of those expenses.

A charity bank statement Horn gave News 8 shows he pays himself $5,000-a-month salary. Records also show that in December 2014, Horn paid himself an extra $16,515.

Horn has yet to provide News 8 with an explanation as to why the extra money was paid.

“The board looks through every bit of this,” Horn said.

News 8 attempted to contact several boardmembers with questions about Score a Goal’s finances.

An aerial look at Ernie Horn's "fort" in Aledo.

Board President Charles Boswell, a former Fort Worth city manager, would not return repeated phone calls. Horn’s neighbors say they have presented Boswell with evidence of alleged misallocation of charity resources and funds, but they have never received a response.

Two other Score a Goal boardmembers, former Fort Worth city councilmembers Jim Lane and Daniel Scarth, both declined to talk on the record about the charity.

Another boardmember, former Fort Worth ISD superintendent Walter Dansby, spoke on the record about the allegations.

"I have only been on the board for one year, but I think what they are doing is of great benefit to the children," Dansby said.

Ernie Horn

Horn participated in educational seminar at Saginaw High School in Fort Worth two weeks ago. He invited News 8 to come along.

“Hey! Good morning Roughnecks! Welcome,” Horn told the students. “How many of y'all like money?” Horn asked the students, raising his own hand.

Most responded enthusiastically.

Horn then introduced volunteer employees from Burlington Northern Santa Fe, who were there that morning to give students a job skills presentation called “Stay on Track, Stay in School.”

Beyond the introduction, it’s unclear what Horn’s role was in the event. At one point, he passed out pencils to seniors, so they could take a jobs survey, provided by BNSF.

But Horn ran out of pencils before he got to the end of the row of students.

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