Teacher-Licensing Scheme Lands Memphis Man in Court
Since 1995 dozens of teachers and aspiring teachers in Memphis, Arkansas, and Mississippi paid a broker from $1,500 to $3,000 to have others take their licensing exams.
That broker, federal authorities say, was guidance counselor Clarence Mumford, who arranged for stand-ins by having the teachers send him their drivers' licenses and Social Security numbers, then hiring Memphis City Schools employees or former employees to take the tests.
Mumford was named in a 45-count indictment Tuesday charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States, document fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The charges carry penalties of from five to 20 years in prison.
U.S. Atty. Ed Stanton said the case involved fewer than 50 teachers and bogus test-takers, but described the scam in harsh terms.
"This indictment charges crimes that strike at the fabric of our society," Stanton said at a news conference. "In an area that should be sacrosanct—the education of our children—Mumford has created an atmosphere in which teachers who are not only unqualified, but who have also gained credentials by fraud, stand in front of our students every day."
Stanton said Mumford's conduct harmed not just the schools and system, but also "qualified individuals who could have obtained jobs (that were) held by unqualified teachers."
Mumford, 58, who was arrested Tuesday, made a first appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Diane Vescovo who said she would appoint a private attorney for him, though he still would be required to pay $200 a month in attorney's fees.
The former assistant principal at Humes Junior High said he now works as a guidance counselor with the Hughes, Ark., School District, though he said that could end when officials there learn of his indictment.
He was released on $10,000 unsecured bond, meaning he must post no money, but could be liable for the bond if he violates terms of his release.
Stanton said the investigation began two years ago in West Tennessee when a test proctor saw the same person take the teacher's exam twice in the same day. He said the investigation is ongoing and did not rule out more indictments.
The test-takers were identified only by their initials, including "JB," "FK," "CS" and "SS" among others. Authorities said Mumford directed the stand-ins to appear at test sites in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, where they would falsely identify themselves as the teachers who were registered for the test.
"Defendant Mumford obtained tens of thousands of dollars from teachers and aspiring teachers during the conspiracy," the indictment said.
John Barker, MCS Supt. Kriner Cash's chief of staff, said, "As this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot comment at this time."
The tests involved those of the Educational Testing Service, including the PRAXIS series required by many states for those entering the teaching system or for teachers obtaining subject-specific endorsements on their teaching licenses. Departments of education in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi rely on the exam results.
Those taking the PRAXIS exams are required to sign confidentiality statements attesting that they are the people whose names and addresses were used in the test application process.
They also are required to present a driver's license for identification; the false test-takers had bogus licenses doctored by Mumford to display their photo and the teacher's name and address, authorities said.
The indictment says the scam began as early as January of 1995 and ended March 13, 2010.
In one case, according to the indictment, a teacher identified as "EB" was registered to take a PRAXIS exam on June 13, 2009, at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro where the registration fee was paid for by Mumford's credit card and the exam was taken by impostor "CS."
Other fraudulent test-taking allegedly occurred on Jan. 8, 2008, at the University of Mississippi; on Jan. 10, 2009, at East Arkansas Community College; on March 13, 2010, at Jackson State University in Mississippi; and also on that date at Rust College in Mississippi.
Mumford draws a monthly pension from Memphis City Schools, where he worked for nearly 24 years beginning in 1987. He also worked in the Tunica, Miss., school district while he was facing charges in Memphis of paddling and injuring a student in 1996. He eventually was cleared in that case.