(CN) – The former superintendent of El Paso Independent School District pleaded guilty to failing to disclose his financial interest in a fraudulent $450,000 contract with the district, and manipulating testing data to get performance bonuses, federal prosecutors said.
Lorenzo Garcia, 56, pleaded guilty this week in El Paso Federal Court to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Garcia conspired to rip off the district in 2006-2007 by securing a $450,000 sole-source contract for a consulting company, IRA, that was owned by a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship, prosecutors said.
Garcia admitted providing $5,000 in start-up money to her and persuading her to submit a fraudulent affidavit and letter claiming she was the sole source for certain educational products and services.
“Furthermore, Garcia admitted that he circumvented the normal EPISD contract process and spearheaded this sole source contract with IRA while failing to disclose to the EPISD Board of Trustees his personal relationship to the owner as well as his personal financial interest in IRA,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
“As a result of Garcia’s efforts, in August 2006, IRA received two checks from EPISD in the amount of $180,000 each, though there was never a signed contract between EPISD and IRA.”
After the woman tried to end their relationship, Garcia ordered a district administrator to kill the contract, prosecutors said.
In the second, unrelated scheme, Garcia admitted that to reach performance bonuses under his contract, he caused false information in the district’s Federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards for accountability to be reported to the Texas Education Agency and the U.S. Department of Education, making it look like the district was exceeding the standards.
Garcia admitted he manipulated data by implementing a “reclassification program” that evaded 10th-grade testing and accountability requirements.
“Essentially, Garcia directed others to reclassify student grade levels using partial course credits; require that all transfer students from Mexico be placed in ninth 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,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 42 months in federal prison and $180,000 in restitution to the district.
U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said Garcia’s “abuse of his position of public trust by using taxpayer funds to advance a personal relationship, together with his manipulation of the education of disadvantaged students to achieve false results on test scores were shameful and he must now be held to account.”
Garcia is to be sentenced on Sept. 14.