Federal Grand Jury Indicts Five Current and Former El Paso Independent School District Employees for Roles in Fraud Scheme
In El Paso, a federal Grand Jury has indicted five individuals including 50–year-old former El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) Associate Superintendent Damon Murphy, in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) by artificially inflating state and federal student accountability scores announced United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Douglas E. Lindquist, El Paso Division; and, U.S. Department of Education Inspector General Kathleen S. Tighe.
A six-count federal grand jury indictment unsealed today charges Murphy; 52-year-old former Austin High School (AHS) Principal John Tanner; and, 51-year-old former AHS Assistant Principal Mark Phillip Tegmeyer with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States; one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud; and, one substantive count of mail fraud. The indictment also charges Tanner, Tegmeyer, 53-year-old former AHS Assistant Principal Diane Thomas, and 48-year-old former AHS Assistant Principal Nancy Love, with one count of conspiracy to retaliate against a witness. The indictment also charges Love with one count of making a false declaration before a Grand Jury.
The indictment alleges a scheme on the part of the defendants between February 2006 to September 2013 to violate the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) portion of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in order to keep EPISD compliant with program requirements.
According to the indictment, federal student performance accountability measure(s) including Federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards for accountability are mandated by the ESEA. The indictment alleges that fraudulent misrepresentations regarding EPISD's AYP were submitted to the Texas Education Agency and the DOE in order to make it appear as though EPISD was meeting and exceeding AYP standards. In the 2008/2009 school year, Murphy allegedly gave high school principals, including Tanner, “marching orders” to “put up barriers” to prevent 9th grade Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students and others who they perceived would perform poorly on the TAKS test from going on to the 10th grade. Later, Murphy and others implemented a plan using partial course credits for the 10th grade to reclassify and promote those held-back students to the 11th grade thereby circumventing all mandated testing/accountability procedures including the 10th grade TAKS test.
The indictment also alleges that throughout the 2009-2010 school year, Tanner, assisted by Tegmeyer, directed an AHS administrator to change previously properly marked absences of students to make it appear as if the student were present on days designated by the State to measure attendance rates. Tanner’s action resulted in approximately 11,000 fraudulent entries regarding absences of AHS students. The indictment further alleges that in the 2010/2011 school year, Tegmeyer instructed an AHS employee to withdraw students from the school without the students’ parents’ consent or notification to benefit EPISD’s compliance requirements.
The indictment also alleges that Tanner, Tegmeyer, Thomas and Love conspired with each other to harm the personal and professional reputations of two EPISD teachers for providing truthful information to FBI agents. The alleged purposes of their scheme included the termination of both teachers’ EPISD employment as well as any future employment; and, coaching a former student into falsely pressing criminal charges against one of the instructors. Love is alleged to have made a false statement during a Grand Jury proceeding on September 26, 2013. According to the indictment, Love told the grand jury that the former student sought her out for advice and help with pressing charges against the teacher, when in fact, it was Love who approached a relative of the former student to make contact and convince the student to press charges against the teacher.
“This indictment makes serious allegations that school officials manipulated and falsified crucial information about students to evade and defeat federal education standards. It is of the greatest importance to the community that these officials be called to account in order to maintain public confidence in the education system,” stated United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr.
All have been released on bond pending trial. The defendants face up to five years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to defraud the Government; up to 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of conspiracy to commit mail fraud; up to 20 years in federal prison upon conviction of mail fraud; up to ten years in federal prison for conspiracy to retaliate against a witness; up to five years in federal prison for false declaration before a Grand Jury; and, up to five years in federal prison for making a false statement to a federal agent.
“These newly charged EPISD administrators engaged in criminal conduct and brazen efforts to manipulate testing populations, graduation rates, and attendance figures. The message should be loud and clear that the FBI, American people, and citizens of El Paso will not tolerate the manipulation and corruption of our public educational system,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas E. Lindquist, El Paso Division. “The involved teachers and administrators were trusted with educating and looking out for the best interests of students, as opposed to spending countless hours scheming and devising ways to defraud educational standards.”
“These educators have been indicted for cheating the most innocent of victims - El Paso school children -- as well as America’s taxpayers whose hard earned dollars fund vital education programs,” said Neil Sanchez, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s South Central Regional Office. “As the office responsible for identifying waste, fraud, and abuse involving Department of Education funds and programs, ensuring that those who abuse these funds or game the system for their own selfish purposes are stopped and held accountable for their criminal actions is a big part of our mission.”
This ongoing investigation is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Education Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorneys Debra Kanof and Robert Almonte are prosecuting this case on behalf of the Government.
It is important to note that an indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.