Pre-Sentence Investigation filing means Lambert, Steward sentencing days away

Patricia Lambert, Victoria Steward

More than a year after two Beaumont Independent School District administrators were indicted on charges of conspiracy and embezzlement related to cheating on standardized tests and stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from not only the school district but also students and their parents alike, the pair are inching closer to prison time.

Former BISD Assistant Superintendent and Central High School principal Patricia Adams Collins Lambert and her protégé, former BISD administrator Victoria Gauthier Steward, were originally charged Feb. 4, 2015, with conspiring to lie on a form submitted to officials stating that they were not aware of any cheating on standardized tests performed under their watch – when in fact they were. Lambert was additionally indicted on embezzlement charges, with prosecutors claiming she stole, misappropriated or mishandled upwards of $750,000 meant for the education of the predominately underserved and impoverished student population under her charge while at Central High. Lambert served at Central High from 2006-2012, when she was promoted to assistant superintendent.

Each initially pleaded not guilty to the charges lodged against them, but both changed their pleas to “guilty” in December 2015.

Steward was the first to change her story. Dec. 23, 2015, Steward confessed she was indeed guilty of the crime she is accused of committing. According to the government’s trial brief, Steward’s role in the cheating scheme was that of a member of Lambert’s “inner circle.” Hired as a math teacher in 2007, Steward quickly rose through the ranks at Central High and “soon assumed a prominent role” in administering standardized tests at the high school campus. Once in charge of testing, the government alleges, Steward, “acting on Lambert’s behalf and at her instruction, directed other teachers to erase and change answers on standardized tests on multiple occasions.” Additionally, the government’s case spells out, teachers at Central High were giving answers to students during the tests, and also allowing students to give each other answers while the test was in progress.

The product of schemes to inflate student test scores, prosecutors insist, was that between the years of 2007 and 2012, “the standardized test scores rose so dramatically that they cannot be explained by student behavior or known educational practices.”

What sentence Steward will receive remains to be seen, but the maximum penalty for the crime is five years in prison, a fine not to exceed $250,000, and supervised release of no more than three years.

Lambert pleaded guilty to the cheating scheme and one count of defrauding programs receiving federal funding shortly after Steward — Monday morning, Dec. 28, 2015. In exchange for sparing prosecutors the effort of a trial, she received a reduced sentence agreement of no more than 40 months in prison, and the government agreed not to pursue charges against one of the main beneficiaries of Lambert’s fraud – her son, Brian Collins. But Lambert would not save the government the expense of a sentencing hearing, arguing that she stole less than the amount federal prosecutors claimed. After making the court hold four days of testimony, and after roughly a dozen witnesses took time to tell what they knew about Lambert’s criminality in February 2016, she finally admitted to stealing $500,000 from the school district and the student population.

Now, the only thing holding up sentencing of both admitted felons was the Pre-Sentence Investigation report – which was filed with the court Wednesday, April 27. According to court officials, a sentencing date will be set likely within the next 30 days, although it could be longer depending on judicial scheduling conflicts.

“People of Beaumont want action yesterday,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas Malcolm Bales said in February 2015, upon indictment of Steward and Lambert. “I really am looking forward to the day when all the BISD bad news of both criminal wrongdoing and just terrible decision making is in our collective rearview, and those responsible are held accountable for their actions.”