Lorenzo Garcia, the former superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District, pled guilty to federal charges in court Wednesday afternoon.
Garcia pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud contained in two separate charging documents. The first charge, count one of a federal grand jury indictment returned in July 2011, alleged that from February 1, 2006, until March 11, 2007, Garcia and others conspired to defraud EPISD by securing a $450,000 sole source contract under false pretenses.
According to court documents, the government has agreed to a recommended sentence in this case of three-and-a-half years in federal prison and restitution in the amount of $180,000 to EPISD. Judge David Briones has scheduled sentencing for September 14, 2012.
"I am devastated that the students and the community have been defrauded this way," Isela Castañon-Williams, El Paso Independent School board president said in a phone interview. "We expect that there is always going to be honesty and integrity when students are tested and the results are going to be true and correct. So this is very sad and disappointing for me."
By pleading guilty, Garcia admitted that he had provided $5,000 in "start up" money to a woman with whom he had a personal relationship, for her consulting firm called IRA, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.
The second mail fraud conspiracy charge stems from an Information filed by the United States Attorney's Office this morning alleging that Garcia directed staffers to manipulate state and federal mandated annual reporting statistics in order to keep EPISD compliant with requirements of the No Children Left Behind Act.
Garcia's contract with EPISD stipulated that he would receive annual performance bonuses if the District achieved one or more District-wide Board-approved goals on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) Test and/or other state or federal student performance accountability measure(s) including Federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards for accountability.
By pleading guilty, Garcia admitted that in order to achieve his contractual bonuses, he caused material, fraudulent misrepresentations regarding EPISD's AYP to be submitted to the Texas Education Agency and the U.S. Department of Education in order to make it appear as though the District was meeting and exceeding AYP.
Garcia also admitted manipulating EPISD data for the 2006-'07 school year by implementing a reclassification program designed to evade 10th grade testing and accountability requirements. Garcia directed others to reclassify student grade levels using partial course credits; require that all transfer students from Mexico be placed in 9th grade, no matter whether they had sufficient credits for the 10th grade year; change passing grades to failing grades in an effort to prevent qualified students from taking the 10th grade TAKS test; and, implement course credit recovery programs to help intentionally held-back students catch up prior to graduation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Garcia was placed on unpaid administrative leave last August, shortly before the start of the school year. He resigned late last year.
Check kvia.com for more details as they become available.