Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Acts are usually associated with the criminal prosecution of major gangsters; however, Georgia prosecutors used the state’s RICO Act to convict 12 educators in Atlanta’s elementary in middle schools of a racketeering conspiracy to illegally raise students’ test scores.
Though the convictions occurred in April 2015, they came after years of investigation into the cheating scandal. In 2009, the state of Georgia began an investigation due to an unusual rise in test scores. The investigation implicated approximately 178 teachers and administrators in “organized and systematic misconduct” in more than 40 Atlanta elementary and middle schools. Some educators were also indicted for influencing a witness, theft by taking, false swearing and/ or making a false statement or writing. More than 80 of the educators confessed to tampering with tests by stealing the tests before they were administered or by changing test answers afterwards. In 2013, 35 educators were indicted but 1 defendant died and 21 pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were given immunity in exchange for their testimony against their coconspirators.
When the dust settled, 5 teachers, 2 test coordinators, an assistant principal, a principal and 3 superintendents insisted on their innocence and went to trial. The case of 1 defendant, former Superintendent Beverly L. Hall, was severed due to her chemotherapy for breast cancer. Hall died on March 2, 2015.
The prosecutors presented thousands of documents and approximately 130 witnesses with “overwhelming evidence” to the six-man – six-woman jury. Defense attorneys attacked the credibility of prosecution witnesses due to their immunity deals, contradictory statements and supposed personal grievances against the defendants. After 8 days of deliberation, all but 1 of the defendants were convicted. Dessa Curb, an elementary school teacher, was acquitted of all charges, largely due to contradictions between the state’s erasure analysis and the testimony.
A RICO conviction carries a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment; however, some of the defendants were also convicted of the additional felonies with lesser punishments and could be sentenced to as much as 35 years’ imprisonment.
Atlanta, Georgia has been singled out; however the U. S. Government Accountability Office reports that cheating may have occurred in the public schools of as many as 40 states from 2010 to 2012.
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