Feds garnish spouse to get restitution for thefts

Patricia Adams Collins Lambert and Howard Lambert

Paying only $50 restitution in a year’s time toward a half-million-dollar bill owed to Beaumont ISD stakeholders, the federal government had to take additional measures to ensure that former school district assistant superintendent and high school principal Patricia Adams Collins Lambert paid back the money she admittedly stole from students in Beaumont.

Not only has the federal government received permission to garnish the teacher retirement checks from Texas and Louisiana made out to the convicted felon herself, but there is also garnishment in place for the income of her husband, Howard Lambert. Despite the heavy liens, Beaumont ISD spokesperson Nakisha Burns said the district has not seen any restitution from Lambert’s criminal case since she was convicted and sentenced to serve three years in prison and pay $500,000 in restitution to the school district she stole from on June 10, 2016.

During the federal criminal trial that led to the restitution order, evidence was submitted to show that Lambert not only conspired to falsify standard state test results to make students appear to be passing that resulted in cash bonuses for herself and others, but she also used student and district funds to pay for personal trips and electronics like a couple dozen iPads (with cases to match), funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to her son’s “printing” business that amounted to him taking files to Kinko’s, and financing her daughter’s wedding. Once prosecutors detailed expenses in excess of the final judgment, Lambert admitted she owed the $500,000. Yet to date, the students and stakeholders of BISD have not received a penny back.

The most recent final judgment for garnishment to pay Lambert’s debt to society was on her husband Howard’s “non-exempt assets and wages” from Memorial Hospital. Initially requested in August 2016, it took months of work for assistant U.S. attorney Robert Wells to secure the judgment in March of this year. According to Wells, Howard Lambert was served with the prosecution’s intentions to garnish his wages along with his wife’s via mail, certified letter, and the U.S. Marshals Service personally before the judgment was finalized.

Howard Lambert’s employer, Memorial Hospital, reported to the feds in April that he receives weekly pay valued at $1,729.77. Wells informed the employer that the amount of garnishment to be taken from his check and forwarded for restitution be “at least monthly the lessor of 25 percent of Howard Lambert’s earnings, or all amounts of Howard Lambert’s disposable earnings in excess of 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage.” Disposable earnings, Wells’ advised, are wages, commission and income minus federal income tax, Social Security tax, state tax, and Medicare withholdings. The final order for garnishment for Howard Lambert’s income was not approved until June 29, 2017 – 10 months after the government’s application.

Howard Lambert could have applied to exempt his wages for multiple factors, as the federal statute generally incorporates the exemptions available to individual taxpayers under the Internal Revenue Service Code. Applicable exemptions from garnishment include “wearing apparel and school books; fuel, provisions, furniture, and personal effects in the debtor’s household, and of the arms for personal use; books and tools of a trade, business, or profession; unemployment benefits; worker’s compensation; judgments for support of minor children; certain service-connected disability payments; (and membership on) the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard Medal of Honor roll.”

Howard Lambert made no claims for exemptions. Patricia Lambert did not receive any exemptions either. According to the garnishment notices to attach Patricia Lambert’s teacher retirement wages, the final order to attach her wages was granted May 30 of this year for Teachers’ Retirement System of Texas, where she draws a monthly income of $1,638.89. Prior to that, in April of this year, the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana agreed to withhold the requested federal garnishment from the payments they send Patricia Lambert valued at $2,414.85 monthly.

Information as to how much money has been recouped by the feds since April 2017 was not provided as of press time, but the pittance submitted up to that point still hasn’t made its way to BISD coffers – and neither has any money since, BISD’s Burns said. Court documents pertaining to the garnishment state that “payments shall be applied in the following order: (1) assessment, (2) restitution principal, (3) restitution interest, (4) fine principal, (5) fine interest, (6) community restitution, (7) penalties, and (8) costs, including cost of prosecution and court costs.” At the time of her sentencing for fraud upon programs receiving federal funds and conspiracy to make false representations and statements concerning educational assessment test security on June 8, 2016, Patricia Lambert was sentenced to 40 months in prison, three years of subsequent supervised release, pay a $200 assessment fee, and pay $500,000 in restitution to BISD with the interest payments waived for the restitution. Lambert was ordered to pay the $200 assessment fee prior to entering prison.

While incarcerated, according to the terms of her criminal sentencing, Patricia Lambert is recommended to “participate in the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program at a rate determined by the Bureau of Prisons staff,” the objective of the program being to develop, with staff assistance, a financial plan to meet restitution/financial obligations.

Each financial plan is monitored, according to the Bureau of Prisons, and consequences are incurred for inmates who refuse to participate in the program or fail to comply with their financial plan’s provisions. Refusal by an inmate to participate in the financial responsibility program or to comply with the provisions of their financial plan ordinarily results in repercussions such as the Parole Commission being notified of the inmate’s failure to participate; the inmate not receiving any furlough or outside work opportunity; the inmate being subject to a monthly commissary spending limitation more stringent than the limitation set for all inmates; and the inmate being quartered in the lowest housing status.

Patricia Lambert’s co-defendant, Victoria Gauthier Steward, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to make false representations on statements concerning educational assessment test security, and was sentenced to serve three years probation. Steward was not ordered to pay restitution – only a $100 assessment fee. In addition, Steward is required to provide the probation officer with access to any requested financial information for purposes of monitoring her efforts to obtain and maintain lawful employment and income, perform 300 hours of community service as directed by the probation officer in the Beaumont community, and notify (in writing) “any employer, any parents if the students are minors, and any students if the students are adults, regarding the circumstances of this case, if working in a position in the education or the administration of education fields, whether as an employee, a contract agent, a volunteer, or in any other capacity, regardless of whether the position is in a public or private capacity.”

Former Beaumont ISD finance employees Devin McCraney, chief financial officer, and Sharika Allison, comptroller, are not subject to wage garnishment, according to the court files on their criminal cases. Both McCraney and Allison pleaded guilty to theft crimes against the school district that resulted in the loss of taxpayer funds for student education in excess of $4 million.

McCraney was siphoning money from the school district, prosecutors alleged, in multiple ways while he was in control of BISD’s finances for a period of time between 2010 and 2013. McCraney and Allison, among other financial embezzlement schemes against the district, also created “dummy” companies to mimic the names of legitimate businesses and pay those phony companies using BISD money for services that – of course – the shell companies did not provide. Less work was required in McCraney’s chief embezzlement ploy, though, which was to wire transfer money directly to his own bank account. The pair were able to, in a relatively short time, take $4.1 million from the school district during their reign over BISD’s finance department. McCraney pleaded guilty on April 14, 2014, to the charge of fraud upon programs receiving federal funds and was sentenced to 68 months in federal prison. Allison pleaded guilty the same day to the charge of conspiracy to commit fraud upon programs receiving federal funds and was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison.

McCraney and Allison were jointly ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $4,041,705.27.

Although BISD has not been able to recoup its money from the Lambert schemes, the district began receiving payment from the McCraney/Allison theft almost immediately after sentencing. In January 2015, the U.S. District Clerk forwarded $896,915.33 in forfeited funds to BISD as part of that restitution.

“After McCraney and Allison were indicted in January 2014, more than $900,000 in assets, including cash and luxury vehicles, were seized pursuant to the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture procedures,” U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas spokesperson Davilyn Walston reported. “The majority of those assets were forfeited to the federal government when McCraney was sentenced. Assets were also forfeited from Allison in the criminal case. Aside from those forfeited assets, McCraney and Allison had spent nearly all of the remaining money that they embezzled from BISD.

“Because McCraney and Allison did not have enough other assets to pay anything towards the $4 million restitution judgment, the U.S. Attorney requested for the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section (AFMLS) to approve application of the forfeited assets to the restitution debt so that the forfeited funds could be paid to BISD. AFMLS expedited the U.S. Attorney’s request and approved it in a matter of days.”

By the end of 2015, another $122,000 had been paid toward the McCraney debt. Smaller payments have been made sporadically since – July 2016, July 2017, August 2017, October 2017, and at the end of November 2017. In all, according to district records, McCraney has paid over $1 million in restitution to the school district.

Although not even 25 percent of what McCraney owes for his crimes against his former employer, “He’s the only one who’s paid anything,” Burns said.

With the exception of Steward, who was only sentenced to serve probation for conspiracy, all three are still behind bars. Patricia Lambert is serving her time at the Bryan Federal Prison Complex, with an expected release date of May 3, 2018; McCraney is serving his time at Oakdale II FCI in Louisiana with and anticipated release date of Sept. 29, 2019; and Allison is serving her time at Dallas RRM with an anticipated release date of Feb. 20, 2018.

Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.