Racketeering Convictions for 11 Defendants in Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal
In April 2013, 35 educators in the Atlanta Public School System were indicted on federal charges of racketeering for a cheating scandal that falsely inflated students’ standardized test scores in order for the schools to meet federal criteria and receive more money.
During the course of the racketeering trial, several defendants made plea deals and testified against their fellow educators, including teachers, test administrators, and school principals. Now, two years later, an Atlanta jury has convicted 11 defendants on racketeering charges for the now infamous cheating scandal.
Several other defendants were convicted on lesser charges, including theft and making false statements.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter ordered all 11 defendants to be immediately taken to jail.
For at least four years – 2005 to 2009 – educators across Atlanta altered test scores and answers on standardized tests to make the school district appear to rapidly improve. At the center of the Atlanta cheating scandal was school superintendent Beverly Hall, who was named National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 for the incredible improvements in her urban school district.
Prosecutors accused the cheating scandal defendants of falsely inflating test scores on the Georgia state Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which measures how well students do in reading, math, science, and social studies. Defendants allegedly used answer keys to determine which answers were wrong, erased those, and entered correct answers. Some of the defendants were also accused of breaking into the sealed exams in order to literally “teach the test” to students, to ensure the school passed.
In 2011, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported suspicions of cheating in a series of articles, which made the urban school district appear to make rapid and impressive improvements on national test scores. The reports launched a state investigation into Hall’s school district, which uncovered an incredible ring of cheating that occurred at 44 Atlanta schools, perpetrated by 178 educators, including 38 principals. Over the course of the 5-month federal trial, 162 witnesses testified about the cheating scandal.
Hall, who underwent treatment for cancer during the course of the trial, died on March 2nd. However, she consistently maintained her innocence in the cheating scandal and denied the racketeering charges. Prosecutors stated repeatedly that during her tenure in the Atlanta Public School System, Hall “created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” in the district that went unchecked for years.
Defense attorneys urged jurors to consider the massive popularity of the cheating scandal, and regard several testimonies as inaccurate due to backtracking on statements and biases against educators involved. However, the jury moved to convict on the racketeering charges anyway.
Sentencing will begin in the second week of April 2015.
If you face RICO charges, it is important to begin your federal defense immediately, with help from a federal defense attorney. The South Carolina racketeering and federal charges defense attorneys at the Strom Law Firm offer free, confidential case evaluations to discuss your charges. Contact us today for help. 803.252.4800