Plea change set in teacher test fraud

By Adrian Sainz/The Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A lawyer for a former Memphis public school assistant principal said Friday he’s seeking a plea change on federal charges that his client helped current or aspiring teachers cheat on qualification tests.

Coleman Garrett, a lawyer for Clarence Mumford Sr., asked U.S. District Court Judge John Fowlkes for a new hearing in which Mumford could change his plea to either guilty or “no contest.” Garrett said he did not anticipate a trial in the case and that he and prosecutors are trying to work out a plea agreement.

Mumford has pleaded not guilty to more than 60 fraud and conspiracy charges. He faces between two and 20 years in prison on each count if convicted. The judge set the hearing for Jan. 25.

Authorities say teachers paid Mumford to send someone else to take the tests in their place in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee over a 15-year period. Mumford would get a fee between $1,500 and $3,000 to send one of his test ringers with fake identification to the Praxis exam, prosecutors said.

Mumford allegedly created fake driver’s licenses with the information of a teacher or an aspiring teacher and attached the photograph of a test-taker. Prospective teachers are accused of giving Mumford their Social Security numbers for him to make the fake identities.

Prosecutors say Mumford’s customers got passing grades and secured jobs in public school systems. The test takers also were paid.

Fourteen people have been charged with mail and Social Security fraud, and four people have pleaded guilty to charges associated with the scheme.

Garrett said the final plea was still being worked out and there was some “wiggle room” because of the high number of charges in the indictment.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that we will not be asking for a trial,” Garrett told the judge.

Fowlkes said there were several thousand pages of discovery in the case, and others charged were in the process of giving their discovery.

Authorities say the scheme, which allegedly ran from 1995 to 2010, affected hundreds, if not thousands, of public school students who ended up being taught by unqualified instructors.

Educational Testing Services, which writes and administers the Praxis examinations, has said the company discovered the cheating in June 2009, conducted an investigation and canceled scores. The company began meeting with authorities to turn over the information in late 2009.