BISD admitted embezzler could lose retirement to government

Patricia Adams Lambert and her husband enter the federal courthouse in Beaumont

Admitted embezzler and former Beaumont Independent School District assistant superintendent Patricia Adams Collins Lambert could lose more than just her freedom when she answers to the federal government regarding the hundreds of thousands of dollars she is accused of stealing from the students of the school district that paid her in excess of $100,000 annually for her services. According to information gleaned from past federal rulings, not only can a lien be placed on Lambert’s home and personal property to collect the debt she owes to her victims, but federal garnishment laws conclude that the former educator’s retirement pensions are not excluded from forfeiture in the very likely event she will be ordered to pay restitution for what she stole.

Lambert is set to be in federal court Feb. 22 before Judge Thad Heartfield to begin a hearing that will determine just how much restitution she will be ordered to pay since she has pleaded guilty to theft from programs receiving federal funds and conspiracy to submit false statements concerning standardized test scores in December 2015.

Lambert originally faced five charges of theft, each representing a year in which she absconded with ill-gotten proceeds. The total amount of stolen cash and goods exceeded $750,000, according to court filings. 

According to the government’s original trial brief, Lambert wrote “thousands of dollars worth of checks to her children; purchase(d) personal items at retail stores ...; reimburse(d) herself for job-related travel expenses that had already been paid for her by BISD; and purchase(d) extravagant meals and gifts for herself and staff.” That is all aside from the thousands of dollars of candy and concession sales she is accused of pilfering, as well as the half-million dollars funneled to her son through marked-up, phony and duplicate invoices for printing work. 

Lambert agreed to a deal that, in exchange for a guilty plea to one count of theft, the government would drop all other theft charges. The amount of money attributed to that one count, however, is now being hotly debated.

Prosecutors for the government believe she owes in excess of $250,000 for the remaining count to which she admitted guilt. Lambert is contending that she owes much less.

Should she be able to prove to the judge that she only stole a minimal amount, Lambert could be eligible for probation, although the plea agreement she entered into with the feds called for a sentencing recommendation of up to 40 months in prison. Her claims may even be able to get her sentence reduced to home confinement, or a split sentence with half being prison time and the other half being home confinement. Should prosecutors succeed, however, up to 25 percent of Lambert’s future retirement proceeds could be garnished to pay her debt to society while she sits in a federal prison for three years and four months.

According to a prosecutor who spent years practicing in federal court, there is a common misconception that wage garnishment is precluded in all cases that aren’t tax liabilities, student loans and child support. Not so, according to a 2010 ruling administered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In an opinion penned by judges Edith Jones, Carolyn Dineen King and Catharina Haynes pursuant to a case where city of New Orleans employees schemed to defraud the government, it was held that the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) allowed for the government to proactively seek restitution even from state-run retirement pensions and other income that state courts do not have access to.

“The MVRA makes restitution mandatory for certain crimes, ‘including any offense committed by fraud or deceit,’ and authorizes the United States to enforce a restitution order in accordance with its civil enforcement powers,” the judges ruled. “The MVRA broadly permits the United States, notwithstanding any other federal law, to enforce a restitution order ‘against all property or rights to property of the person fined.’ Section 3613 of the MVRA sets forth several enumerated exceptions to the United States’ authority to garnish any and all of the debtor’s property to satisfy a restitution order; however, the statute does not exempt state-run pension plans.

“Further, (Section) 3613(a)(2) explicitly states that the exemptions … do not apply to the enforcement of a federal criminal judgment.”

Although the judges determined that pension plans were subject to garnishment, federal law caps the garnishment rate at 25 percent, they further noted.

For Lambert, the amount of restitution that could be garnished monthly would be 25 percent of approximately $3,000 – the combined amount she receives from teacher retirement pensions in both Louisiana and Texas. Additionally, although the government may not be able to force the sale of property, a lien can be placed on property under Lambert’s ownership to satisfy her criminal restitution responsibilities.

Among the property under Lambert’s ownership is a home on Firethorn in Beaumont valued at $153,000 and a home on Sparrow Way valued at $92,500 that she owns half of with her mother, a 2011 Lincoln SUV with personalized license plates for herself, and a 2006 Suzuki truck with personalized license plates driven by her husband.

The evidentiary hearing set for Feb. 22 at 9 a.m. is expected to last about five days, according to the judicial schedule. A deadline of March 28 has been given to prosecutors to propose findings of fact and conclusions of law in reference to the amount of loss attributed to Lambert, with Lambert’s defense ordered to respond to the government’s assertions no later than April 4.

Judge Heartfield will not rule until after that date.

 

Jennifer Johnson can be reached at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.

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