Former assistant superintendent taken to prison for theft, cheating

Former assistant superintendent taken to prison for theft, cheating

Patricia Adams Collins Lambert, the former Beaumont Independent School District Assistant Superintendent and Central High School principal who admitted to embezzling $500,000 from the school district and conspiring with others to cheat on state-mandated standardized tests, had one last shot to show a federal judge why she shouldn’t be sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed under a plea deal she arranged with prosecutors in December 2015. As she awaited Judge Thad Heartfield’s ruling Wednesday, June 8, Lambert sniffled and silently wept into a tissue until it was her turn to speak.

She could have taken the opportunity to accept responsibility and ask for leniency. Instead, she bemoaned the embarrassment negative media attention has caused her and her family, and asked for probation or house arrest to fulfill the public’s demand for justice. She also offered to volunteer at the school district she pilfered from while she was paid a six-figure salary.

“Only by the grace of God have I been able to endure the media bashing, the betrayal of once loyal associates,” she said. Lambert sobbed and cried out to her mother, who was in the audience along with Lambert’s grown children and husband, and other supporters. “I tried to shield them from all the ugliness.”

Then, Lambert took the opportunity to say that she initially pleaded not guilty to the charges she later admitted guilt to because she believed she is not guilty.

“I know that my methods were questionable, but I always tried to do what’s right,” she said. “I was working in a flawed system. I should have known better; I should have made better choices, (but) with God’s grace and continued assistance and support from my family, hopefully I’ll be able to gain back the respect and dignity I once had.”

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Malcolm Bales said that Lambert’s statement, “was a bucket of crap, really, that she was offering to the court.”

“She could have just said she was sorry, but that’s not Patricia Lambert,” prosecutor Joe Batte said. “Until the very end, taking no responsibility — that’s Patricia Lambert.”

According to Batte, the Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) report performed on Lambert showed that she deserved the high end of the sentencing guidelines, and argued for enhanced sentencing based on the egregiousness of the crime. Lambert stole from every function she could while at Central High, Batte explained – illegal candy sales, transcript fees, booster club donations, student activity funds, vendor contracts worth hundreds of thousands funneled to son Brian Collins … you name it.

“And that’s just what she admitted to,” Batte underscored. “She had absolute power, and we all know that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

“And she is absolutely corrupt.”

Lambert’s corruption can be traced back in the pages of The Examiner for years. It was first revealed in these pages that she was using BISD personnel on the school district’s dime to remodel her home; extensive investigation laced the pages of this publication to reveal the misappropriation of funds meant for the student body to that of Lambert’s grown son through his Designergy and Printica faux printing companies; and witnesses and victims to the cheating scandal that she headed spoke out about the corruption rampantly taking over the halls at Central High time and time again as the former heads of the school district turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the allegations.

Alfonso Anderson, representing Lambert, argued that his client’s “extensive contributions to this community and the community in New Orleans,” “graduating with honors,” “Harvard training,” and her caretaker role in the family made her a prime candidate for sentencing that would allow her to stay in Beaumont as a productive citizen.

Never mind that Harvard officials told The Examiner years ago that she was never enrolled in their program – or that prosecutors in New Orleans confirmed to this newspaper in 2014 that she also pleaded guilty to embezzling funds from the school district she worked at in New Orleans – or that Lambert admitted she used her children, with and without their knowledge, to steal money from BISD while employed here. 

And, as pointed out by prosecutors, not one student under Lambert’s charge ever said that she contributed in a positive way to their well-being. In fact, the sole witness to testify at the sentencing hearing was a former student of Central High who was personally affected by the widespread cheating scandal Lambert, also known as “Mafia Boss,” orchestrated while in charge of the high school.

Mariah Jones, a 2010 graduate of Central High School, said that she was robbed of her education while a student under Lambert and Lambert’s admitted co-conspirator and protégé Victoria Steward, who was also sentenced June 8 for her role in the cheating scandal. Although she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Central High, Jones said she could not pass remedial math classes when enrolled at the Lamar Institute of Technology and had to drop out. “I wanted to be a doctor … but when I got out of high school, I realized that was not something I was prepared for,” she said. “I struggled with math. I couldn’t keep up with my peers. My (standardized) test scores (in high school) would say that I could do it, but I knew what I was capable of. I couldn’t do it.”

According to the former student, teachers would give students answers on the tests, change wrong answers, and gave her honors status even though she hardly ever reported to class.

Jones said she told the BISD Board of Trustees about her experience the year after she graduated during a regular meeting of the elected officials in 2011. Heartfield asked if she received any response. According to Jones, the only ones who asked questions to investigate her allegations were The Examiner newspaper and then Superintendent Carrol Thomas, who reached out to her mother and told her keep quiet.

“My sister in middle school couldn’t even make change,” Jones further stated, adding that she was also aware of cheating at Jones-Clark Elementary School and Smith Middle School. “I felt it would be wrong of me to sit there and not say anything.”

She also felt it would be wrong to allow Lambert back on the campus – even in a volunteer capacity.

“I don’t trust her,” she said. “She can change her act, she can apologize, but she has no integrity.”

Batte said the offer to volunteer at the high school, along with the request for probation or house arrest, were “fanciful” thinking.

“It’s not a probation case, not an ‘I’m sorry’ case — it’s a penitentiary case,” he said. “There’s a number of self-serving statements about all her great works of helping students. But unless I missed it, not one student statement (came here) to say she bettered their life.” Evidence put forward to support her claims of community contribution came from family members, former co-workers, her pastor, and even ousted BISD Board Trustee Zenobia Bush, who said that she “doesn’t know all that Mrs. Lambert is facing.”

According to Batte, the only reason no one on the ousted Board of Trustees knows what’s going on in BISD is because,  “They’re more interested in getting their names on sports stadiums and swimming pools.”

Heartfield said that although the defendant claimed she put her “talent, energy, resources and soul to help the youth of our community,” she stole not only money from the youth of the community, but also “their ability and their future.”

And, he added, “She did that for money.”

According to the judge, 40 months imprisonment is not “more severe than justice requires.” Rather, it might not be enough.

“I suggest she didn’t learn much from any of her other dealings with the law,” Heartfield said, sentencing Lambert to the maximum 40 months in prison, to start immediately with U.S. Marshals escorting the defendant from the courtroom, and ordering restitution in the amount of $500,000 payable to start with 25 percent of Lambert’s retirement pension submitted directly to the government monthly. If she is really serious about volunteering her talents, Heartfield said, “She can do this on her own, if she wants to help, when she gets out to atone for the damage she has caused by her criminal acts.

“Her presence (now) in that school would be a reminder of the excessive damage she has done to that school district and its students. Perhaps (she) can help someone in the penitentiary.”

The judge further balked at the notion that house arrest should even have been brought up.

“Considering all the harm she has selfishly caused, house arrest is inappropriate,” he said. “What she did – it’s not an activity, it’s a crime. Had we gone to trial and she been found guilty, she could be looking at a punishment in excess of 10 years.

“The punishment should be there to reflect the seriousness of the offense. She’s already been given a substantial break.”

Lambert’s co-conspirator Victoria Steward was also given a substantial break – sentenced to only three years probation and 300 hours of community service. According to Heartfield, Steward’s lack of criminal background and her level of culpability in relation to that of ringleader Lambert’s allowed for a lighter sentence.

Lambert, Heartfield said, “was much more planning and scheming,” and sentencing Steward to prison alongside her former mentor “would be greater than necessary” to serve justice.

U.S. Attorney Bales said that although Lambert’s sentencing was a victory to those who champion justice for victims such as the student body of Central High, their work at BISD is not over.

“Here in Beaumont, there was no security, no integrity,” he said. “Thank God we had a chance to turn that ship around.”

Bales said he knew there were many problems on the horizon at BISD during the prosecution of former BISD contract electrician Calvin Walker, who inflated prices of materials supplied to BISD for reimbursement (plus 10 percent) thereby absconding with millions of dollars in ill-gotten taxpayer dollars.

“Calvin Walker – the thief that he is” – couldn’t have done it alone, Bales surmises. “The gross incompetence in the Walker situation over at BISD, you can’t get away with this gross fraud if there isn’t someone on the inside helping you with it.”

Is there still more work to be done at BISD? Without a doubt, according to Bales.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chris Tortorice and Joe Batte, investigators such as Sam Kittrell, Beaumont Police Chief Jimmy Singletary, and others,  Bales said, “are real-life heroes.

“They’ve put in countless hours of work as they have worked through this case and are still working through it,” he said. “We’re not done yet, though. You all wanted action yesterday, and I realize this took a while, but I am really looking forward to a new day for BISD and the city of Beaumont.”

A new day may be on the horizon, but according to Bales, there will be no light at the end of the tunnel unless the community begins to look past the color of the defendants’ skin and focus on their character.

“We’re not going after Patricia Lambert because of the color of her skin,” he said. “Patricia Lambert happens to be a thief. Her skin color is collateral. In this office, I want people to know that we are serving everybody with justice. We had a very strong case. We could really have obliterated her, but that would not have been in the interest of justice.”

What is “just and merciful,” he said, was a stiff prison sentence and the fact that “she now bears the mark of a convicted felon for the rest of her life.” In regards to other perceived wrongdoers, Bales said that supposition and poor practices on the part of the actor do not necessarily constitute a prosecutable crime.

“We’re gonna get folks that deserve to be got based on the evidence and the law,” he said. “Part of the problem, though, is a lot of money went through BISD. The truth is a lot of the money went where it was supposed to go, but it was just poorly spent. We are looking for folks who were lying, cheating or stealing,” not poorly spending, he said.

Still, if there is evidence to support more charges against other actors, Bales said his staff is invigorated to prosecute those who had a hand in stealing not only BISD’s funds, but the education of the youth the school district was formed to serve.

Meeting with students like Jones, he said, “was like gasoline on a fire for us.

“We started meeting children and parents and teachers who had been scarred by this scandal. They stole a lot of money, but they’ve stolen futures. It was like a turbo charge for the investigation.”

Bales said witnesses like Jones were admirable, and he hopes others will continue to come forward and tell what they know of what Heartfield called the “BISD debacle.”

“I admire that young woman,” he said of the prosecution’s star witness. “She’s going to be fine; she’s got character. She obviously didn’t get it from Central (administrators like Lambert and Steward).

As far as Lambert goes, Bales said he hopes she finds the courage to actually take responsibility for her actions sometime in the future since she didn’t take the opportunity given to her at sentencing.

“I hope she does find it in her mind to take true responsibility,” he said. “She’s going to have a long time to think about it.”

Referring to her pleas for house arrest and volunteerism, Bales said he thought he must have been privy to a “Saturday Night Live” sketch – which would have been humorous if he didn’t know that she was serious.

“I think that just shows how much she doesn’t get it,” Bales said. “It really was a bucket of crap.”

The sad thing is he has no idea what will become of the thousands of students who had their education stolen at the hands of Lambert and her co-conspirators.

“A lot of these kids didn’t even know they had a problem,” he said, dismayed. “At least now they know.”