Former BISD administrator pleads guilty to theft, conspiracy

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

From “absolutely not guilty” to a complete about-face less than a year later, former Beaumont Independent School District assistant superintendent Patricia Adams Collins Lambert finally fessed up to lying, cheating and stealing as outlined in this newspaper for years when she stood before a federal judge on Monday morning, Dec. 28, and said that one little word victims of her crimes have been longing for: “Guilty.” Although the magic word came muffled at first, Judge Thad Heartfield instructed the admitted criminal to speak up so those in attendance could hear her confession.

If her victims were waiting for an apology, however, one was not forthcoming as Lambert refused to speak on the crimes she admitted to committing after the plea hearing. No “sorry,” no explanation, only Lambert’s husband screeching incoherently as the pair fled the courthouse immediately following the court date.

For her dirty deeds, Lambert is facing up to 40 months in federal prison – a far cry from the sentence she could have faced if convicted by a jury of her peers of the multi-count indictment. Lambert was initially charged with four counts of defrauding programs receiving federal funding and one count of conspiracy in connection with a scheme she oversaw to cheat on standardized tests while principal at Central High School — effectively a seven-year crime spree.

Monday, Lambert pleaded guilty to one charge of defrauding programs receiving federal funding and one count of conspiracy. In exchange for sparing prosecutors the effort of a trial, she received a reduced sentence and the government agreed not to pursue charges against one of the main beneficiaries of Lambert’s fraud – her son, Brian Collins, who was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this year, although the indictment remained under seal.

As part of the Factual Basis and Stipulation agreement Lambert signed, she admitted that Collins was funneled BISD funds and student monies via a deal planned with his mother to be the sole provider of printing work although he had no means to actually perform the work. As detailed in investigative coverage from this news outlet, during the time the pair was operating the endeavor, roughly $500,000 was paid to Collins from funds meant to support Beaumont students.

“From 2007 through 2013,” Lambert agreed, “(she) employed her son, Brian Collins, as the primary ‘printer’ for various items including, but not limited to, pamphlets, flyers, banners, football programs, graduation programs, and instructional materials, and helped secure his payment for these items from the Booster Club, Student Activity fund, and the BISD general fund, knowing full well that Collins, rather than doing the actual printing work, was securing the services of an actual printing business, and marking up the price for that work anywhere from 25 percent to 215 percent.”

And, as also outlined in the admission, Lambert was plying other endeavors to score extra cash from the school district and its students by using booster club checks “fraudulently made out to herself, her relatives, and ‘cash”; using student activity funds to purchase items “some of which were for her personal use or the use of her family members,” and writing out checks to herself and others from the student activity account; all while she “generated significant amounts of cash through various means,” such as candy sales, and keeping monetary penalties paid by students for getting caught with a cellphone or missing an ID.

During the time Lambert was in control of BISD money, the government asserted, roughly “$171,000 in unexplained cash deposits” were made to Lambert’s personal bank accounts – funds not reported in any of the former educator’s income tax filings.

But according to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Malcolm Bales, the financial theft “pales in comparison” to the “culture” of long-term and widespread cheating where there is no way to determine just how many students were robbed of their education at Central High in the years of 2007-2012, when “essentially, there was no security for … testing.”

While in charge of Central’s campus, Lambert agreed she “created a culture among the faculty and staff where cheating on standardized tests was accepted,” “either directly or indirectly encouraged teachers to manipulate students’ standardized test scores or had knowledge that cheating was occurring on standardized tests,” and despite the fact that she knew it was a lie, “signed and submitted Oaths of Test Security … where she falsely affirmed all the requirements governing standardized test security were met.”

After Lambert’s plea on Monday, Bales said, “It’s a watershed moment.” According to Bales, “Justice was done today. Ms. Lambert pleaded guilty. We’re on to bigger fish now.”

Lambert’s partner in the cheating conspiracy, former Lambert protégé Victoria Steward, was in court on Wednesday, Dec. 23, pleading guilty to her involvement in the conspiracy. Neither Lambert nor Steward have been sentenced, and a sentencing date has not yet been set in either case.