Condenan a funcionario en Texas por expulsar estudiantes mexicanos …Former EPISD Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia admits fraud, faces 4 years in prison
Dallas.- Un funcionario de educación en Texas fue sentenciado hoy a tres años y medio de prisión por diseñar una estrategia en la cual las escuelas daban de baja o expulsaban a los estudiantes de bajas calificaciones o que residían en México.
La estrategia de Lorenzo García, ex superintendente del Distrito Escolar Independiente de El Paso, era inflar los resultados de las evaluaciones de desempeño académico y obtener más fondos públicos para los planteles en su zona.
De acuerdo con la denuncia, García enviaba a empleados escolares a los cruces internacionales para tomar fotografías a los estudiantes que vivían en México y poder probar con las imágenes que no residían dentro del distrito escolar, por lo que podían ser expulsados de los planteles.
El ex funcionario fue sentenciado por el juez David Briones, en la Corte Federal de El Paso, luego de que se declarara culpable de dos cargos de fraude.
Admitió que impedía que cientos de estudiantes de bajo rendimiento tomaran la prueba de Evaluación de Conocimientos y Habilidades de Texas, de forma que el distrito diera así la apariencia de mejorar el rendimiento académico, lo que significa que era capaz de calificar para obtener más dinero federal.
Los mejores grados académicos obtenidos en forma fraudulenta por el distrito, también permitieron que García recibiera bonos personales de por lo menos 56 mil dólares.
De acuerdo con la acusación presentada ante la Corte Federal en El Paso, al menos otras seis personas participaron en la estrategia de elevar en forma fraudulenta los resultados académicos del distrito.
La Oficina Federal de Investigaciones (FBI) continúa la investigación sobre la estrategia y no se descarta que se presenten cargos contra otros sospechosos.
Former EPISD Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia admits fraud, faces 4 years in prison
Once one of the most powerful men in El Paso in control of a $460 million annual budget and 64,000 students, former El Paso Independent School District Superintendent Lorenzo García on Wednesday found himself in unfamiliar territory — one in which he was no longer in control.
García appeared in front of a federal judge to plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. One of the charges involves cheating on student test scores and the other deals with a $450,000 contract given to one of his lovers.
It was a strong contrast to a defiant García who had shrugged off accusations against him.
García, 57, entered the pleas before Senior U.S. District Court Judge David Briones, who
will impose a sentence at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 14.
GarcÃa pleaded guilty to defrauding the Texas Education Agency and the U.S. Department of Education by inflating state and federal accountability scores at different schools to secure federal No Child Left Behind funding and so that he could earn a performance bonus.
During the brief afternoon court hearing, GarcÃa admitted to ordering district administrators «to do anything to make it look like scores were improving,» including removing children from the 10th grade so they would not take the state-mandated TAKS tests.
When Briones asked GarcÃa how he wanted to plead, GarcÃa paused, looked down, looked back up and then down again. After Briones repeated his question, GarcÃa began sniffling loudly and said, «Guilty.»
In a charging document known as an information, GarcÃa pleaded guilty to allegations that he defrauded the state and federal government by rigging student performance on standardized tests.
State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh first raised concerns in 2010 about alleged cheating in EPISD that prompted the audit and an FBI investigation. In response, GarcÃa held rallies and publicly denounced Shapleigh’s allegations as lies. The U.S. Attorney on Wednesday praised Shapleigh for raising the issue and El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza for helping with the investigation.
The federal information said GarcÃa conspired with six unnamed unindicted co-conspirators «to artificially inflate the EPISD state and federal accountability scores for the purpose of causing the campuses in the EPISD Priority School Division (PSD) to appear to meet accountability, thus, to secure No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal funding.»
GarcÃa and the other conspirators «created the false demographics by improperly causing students to withdraw from school, discouraging students from enrolling in school, denying students entering EPISD from foreign countries to properly earn credits, improperly reclassifying students from the tenth grade to the ninth or eleventh grade by changing passing grades to failing and failing grades to passing and by deleting students’ credits.»
According to GarcÃa’s plea, he admitted that in order to achieve his contractual performance-based bonuses, he caused «material, fraudulent misrepresentations» of the district’s Federal Adequate Yearly Progress reports to be submitted to the Texas Education Agency and the U.S. Department of Education in order to make it look as though the district was meeting and exceeding standards.
He also admitted to manipulating district data by implementing a reclassification program designed to evade 10th- grade testing and accountability requirements during the 2006-07 school year by directing others to reclassify student grade levels using partial course credits. He did so by requiring that all Mexican transfer students be placed in the ninth grade even if they had sufficient credits for the 10th grade, changing passing grades to failing grades to prevent students from taking the 10th-grade TAKS test, and implementing course credit recovery programs to help intentionally held-back students catch up before graduation.
GarcÃa admitted that EPISD officials were working under his orders to do anything to improve the scores. But he said he did not tell them exactly what to do. That was left up to the other administrators who are only identified in the document as unindicted co-conspirators.
U.S. Attorney officials would not say if any of the six unnamed co-conspirators will charged or arrested. Federal officials would only say that the investigation is continuing.
Esparza said that he could not comment whether his office would prosecute any cases linked to GarcÃa.
«We are assisting them (federal agencies) and there are still some investigations ongoing,» Esparza said.
During Wednesday’s hearing, GarcÃa also admitted to scheming to defraud the EPISD by conspiring with his former lover, Tracy Rose, who owned Infinity Resources of Houston, to steer a no-bid contract to Rose’s company.
GarcÃa had been scheduled to go on trial June 18 on two counts of mail fraud, one count of theft or embezzlement concerning programs receiving federal funds, and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
During a status hearing last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Kanof said GarcÃa became good friends with Luther Jones, who was convicted last year of conspiracy to get a multimillion-dollar digitization contract from the county, after GarcÃa was hired as superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District in 2006.
Jones, who is serving a six-year sentence and is awaiting trial on other charges, drafted the contract concerning Rose.
On July 6, 2006, Rose signed an affidavit stating that her company was the sole-source provider of specialized data-driven materials for boosting student math scores in the state’s standardized test. When a company is deemed as the sole provider for materials, it is able to bypass the competitive bid process normally required by school district.
She told prosecutors she valued her services at $100,000, and had initially asked for two payments of $50,000. She also said it was GarcÃa who valued the contract at about $450,000, and in August 2006 she received two checks for $180,000 each from GarcÃa’s personal account before she ever signed a contract with EPISD.
Federal prosecutors said that in March 2007, after Rose tried repeatedly to end their relationship and became engaged to another man, GarcÃa directed an EPISD administrator to terminate the contract. During a pretrial hearing last week, prosecutors alleged GarcÃa had threatened Rose for seeing other men, but he had also been dating Pam Fierro.
Prosecutors also alleged during the hearing last week that GarcÃa secured a job at the Canutillo Independent School District for Fierro with GarcÃa’s friend and former EPISD associate superintendent Damon Murphy, who is now the superintendent for Canutillo.
GarcÃa was arrested in April 2011 after his indictment in the case connected to the sole source contract. He was then placed on administrative leave and resigned soon after.
His arrest restarted a federal audit that looked into allegations of cheating on state-mandated tests. When the investigation began, auditors looked at several high schools but seemed to hone in on Bowie and Coronado, conducting interviews at the South and West Side El Paso campuses and asking for records of students who left school or dropped out, had a change in grade or had transcripts from Mexico.
Auditors also asked about bonus pay for administrators.
GarcÃa’s attorneys, Ray Velarde and Jim Darnell, declined to comment following Wednesday’s hearing. Under the plea agreement, GarcÃa faces a prison sentence of 46 months, or almost four years, but Briones said during the hearing Wednesday that he will review the sentencing guidelines to determine whether GarcÃa will serve more or less than the recommended sentence. GarcÃa will also be ordered to pay $180,000 in restitution to EPISD.
He remains free on bond until his sentencing date.
In a news release, U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman thanked Shapleigh for «initially bringing this scheme to light,» and Esparza «for his support and willingness to assist in the investigation and prosecution of other members of the conspiracy.»
«(Wednesday’s) guilty plea is the result of great dedication and tenacity not only by members of this office, but by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Education,» Pitman said in the news release. «The defendant’s abuse of his position of public trust by using taxpayer funds to advance a personal relationship, together with his manipulation of the education of disadvantaged students to achieve false results on test scores were shameful and he must now be held to account.»