Atlanta educators face trial over organized corruption charges

Claims under Georgia’s Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act aren’t usually associated with public school educators. Organized criminals, or mobsters as they might be depicted in Hollywood films, might be the more typical defendants.

Although it may be hard to believe, a group of Atlanta elementary school teachers are facing trial under RICO charges. Specifically, 12 former employees of the Atlanta Public Schools are accused of a cheating scandal on standardized test results. According to one allegation, educators may have scheduled erasure parties, at which they changed students’ pencil marks on standardized testing sheets. The superintendent of the city school district was also named as a defendant, but her trial is postponed due to breast cancer.

Readers might be questioning whether the penalties from a cheating allegation are serious. Unfortunately, an attorney that focuses on criminal defense knows that a conviction under the state’s RICO law could result in a prison sentence of five to 20 years.

The case should sound a cautionary note to any organizations that might come under investigation for allegedly corrupt practices. RICO charges may allege activities such as money laundering, fraud, conspiracy, or other illegal activity committed by members of an organization. Since an organization is involved, RICO charges are sometimes characterized as a type of white collar crime.

Yet prosecutors can be creative in applying RICO charges to a variety of organizations, and the potential penalties can be very severe. Those potential consequences, as well as the adverse media exposure, should encourage any defendant accused of RICO activities to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Source: The New York Times, “In Atlanta, Jury Selection Is Set to Begin in Test Scandal,” Richard Fausset, Aug. 10, 2014