Ex-EPISD Superintendent Lorenzo García’s victims can tell court of harm

El Paso Times on August 29, 2012 released the following:

“By Hayley Kappes \ El Paso Times

Victims of a scheme to fraudulently inflate standardized test scores at the El Paso Independent School District have until Sept. 21 to inform a federal court of the harm they suffered.

Students or employees of the school district between 2006 and 2011 who suffered damages from a plan devised by former Superintendent Lorenzo García can fill out a “declaration of victim losses” through the U.S. Probation Office.

Those who were directly harmed include students classified as “limited English proficient” or special education students whom the district targeted to prevent from taking the 10th-grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams, according to a letter dated Aug. 17 from the probation office to district students, parents and employees.

District faculty and staff members were indirectly harmed by the scheme, according to the letter.

Former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, who in 2010 alleged the district was removing students improperly, and members of Kids First! Reform EPISD!, a general-purpose political action committee, are urging victims of García’s crimes to detail their losses to the U.S. Probation Office.

Shapleigh argued that García’s restitution should include the cost of educating each student who was denied an education and the bonuses he earned by fraudulent means.

Under the plea agreement, García faces a prison sentence of just less than four years and is ordered to pay $180,000 in restitution to the school district for his role in the cheating scheme and for steering a $450,000 contract to his mistress.

The restitution money should go toward creating a fund at the district to help students who were improperly pushed out as a result of the scheme, Shapleigh said.

“We’re asking that the return of the money be made to the students for their education, that the students have a fund at EPISD, to go find them, to restore them and get them a high-school degree,” Shapleigh said. “They are the real victims.”

District officials have not identified all the students whose education was impeded because of the scheme, district spokeswoman Renee de Santos wrote in an email.

“The district is continuing its efforts, on its own and as part of its cooperation with federal investigators to identify students who may have been affected by the criminal conduct described in the information filed against Dr. Lorenzo García,” de Santos wrote.

Douglas McNabb, adjunct professor of international criminal law at South Texas College of Law in Houston, said that because there are so many direct and indirect victims, it would have been difficult to assign a restitution amount.

García’s attorneys worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to determine the restitution amount, said Jim Darnell, one of the former superintendent’s attorneys.

Darnell disagreed that the restitution should reflect the district’s per student expenditures for students who were pushed out of school and said Shapleigh is not a criminal lawyer.

Daryl Fields, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said he couldn’t comment on how the restitution amount was reached.

The judge has the authority not to accept the plea agreement and can factor the victims’ statements to determine García’s punishment, said Douglas McNabb, adjunct professor of international criminal law at South Texas College of Law. McNabb has been a federal criminal defense lawyer for 30 years.

For each charge García pleaded guilty to, the punishment range is a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Senior U.S. District Judge David Briones in June said he would review the sentencing guidelines to determine whether the punishment should be more or less than the recommended sentence.

García is free on bond and is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5.

“The court could say based upon the stated harm from the victims, ‘I’m going to give the defendant the high end of the guideline range,'” McNabb said. “By allowing the victim to set out a dollar amount in the statement would help perhaps the probation officer in terms of apportioning the amount of the plea-agreed-upon restitution, assuming that the defendant can pay it. Most of them can’t.””


Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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