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VOL. 127 | NO. 177 | Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Guilty Plea Raises Questions in Test Cheating Scandal

By Bill Dries

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A multi-state teacher test cheating scandal had been a federal court case with a lot of criminal counts and a lot of initials of paid test-takers for teachers until last week.

That’s when one of those referred to by his initials in the 49-count fraud and identity theft case pleaded guilty in Memphis federal court. The plea is connected to the fraud case that emerged in July with the indictment of former Memphis City Schools assistant principal Clarence Mumford. It offers more detail about an alleged scheme that U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton has said involved “more than 50” teachers in the three-state Memphis area.

It also raises questions about whether there are similar schemes unconnected to Mumford.

John Bowen, a substitute teacher who worked at Humes Junior High School when Mumford was assistant principal there in the mid-1990s, pleaded guilty Friday, Sept. 7, to conspiracy to commit fraud count.

“Such criminal conduct cannot and will not be tolerated by those entrusted to teach and serve in our school systems,” Stanton said in a written statement following Friday’s guilty plea by Bowen.

Bowen pleaded guilty in a criminal information, a guilty plea that is done at the same time that a defendant is formally charged.

The information says Bowen took “dozens of tests” for would-be teachers and was paid $200 per test when the scheme allegedly started in the mid-90s with a pay hike to $800 per test later in the 15-year span alleged by federal prosecutors.

In court Friday, Bowen indicated he began taking the exams in the names of other teachers and would-be teachers in 1990, four years before the separate indictment naming Mumford as the ringleader indicates Mumford began the scheme. Bowen said in court that he didn’t meet Mumford until the 1994-1995 school year at Humes.

Bowen told U.S. District Court Judge John Fowlkes that Educational Testing Service monitors began their private investigation in June 2009 when a monitor spotted Bowen taking a test during an afternoon session at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. It was the same day that the same monitor saw him taking a test for someone else during the morning session.

According to Bowen, there were several other test-takers also paid by Bowen who were at the Jonesboro testing sessions even as he was caught.

Bowen even took the PRAXIS exam three times for women between March 2008 and April 2009. The women, identified in the information by initials, gave their driver’s licenses to Mumford. Mumford allegedly altered the women’s licenses to make their names appear to be that of a man and added Bowen’s photograph and other identifying information.

Bowen is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 7 by Fowlkes. He is free on his own recognizance at least until the sentencing date.

Educational Testing Service sent the results of its private investigation to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and that state criminal investigation was forwarded to federal prosecutors in Memphis about a year ago. The U.S. Secret Service was the federal agency that worked on the case that the U.S. Attorney’s office acknowledged last week involved dozens of interviews as well as bank, phone and testing records.

The superseding indictment in the case returned Aug. 24 by a federal grand jury added defendants Clarence Mumford Jr. and Dante Dowers to the case that a month earlier named only the elder Mumford as a defendant.

The updated charges identified four “Memphis City Schools employees and/or former employees” who were part of the test-taking scheme by initials only. They were listed as co-conspirators who were paid specifically to take tests for teachers and aspiring teachers.

Among them was someone identified as JB. The others are FK, CS and SS.

Dowers, of Belle Glade, Fla., is named in the superseding indictment as someone who received blank money orders from those who wanted someone to take the PRAXIS exam for them and who forwarded identifying information to Mumford.

The younger Mumford registered online to take the PRAXIS exam in January 2008 at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. The test-taker identified in the indictment as JB allegedly took the PRAXIS exam for the younger Mumford at Ole Miss that month.

Mumford Jr. was already a teacher in the Memphis City Schools system on an alternative license he obtained in late 2008. With certification that he had passed the PRAXIS “principles of learning and teaching” exam at Ole Miss, Mumford got a transitional license to teach and then an apprentice license and finally a professional license in August 2011.

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