Louisiana School Board Member First To Be Implicated in Grade-Changing Scandal
By Scott Dyer
BATON ROUGE, La.
A criminal probe of Southern University’s grade-buying scandal has already prompted a plea bargain from one St. Landry Parish school board member, and could implicate two other members of the same board.
St. Landry school board member Quincy Richard Sr., whose son was a star quarterback at Southern University, pleaded guilty to one count of filing false public records last month as part of a plea-bargain deal with prosecutors.
Richard, who has served on the St. Landry Parish school board for eight years, admitted to helping his wife, Cynthia, purchase a fake Southern University transcript for $1,500 that indicated she had earned a master’s degree.
As part of the deal, Richard will resign his school board seat, and his wife will resign as a teacher and pay back the extra money that she earned from the bogus master’s degree. The couple also agreed to pay a combined total of almost $6,000 in fines, court costs, restitution and fees.
Southern University System Vice President Ralph Slaughter, who oversaw the school’s internal investigation, said a total of three St. Landry school board members were among the 541 suspected grade buyers who were given to 19th Judicial District prosecutors in Baton Rouge.
A subpoena issued by prosecutors has identified the second board member as Phyliss Mason Fisher. Slaughter and prosecutors declined to identify the third school board member.
The subpoena alleges that Fisher received certification as a teacher based on bogus academic credits that she never earned from Southern University. Fisher teaches in a neighboring parish, and the subpoena is seeking all of her personnel records.
Assistant 19th Judicial District Attorney Mark Pethke, who issued the subpoena as part of a grand jury investigation, also declined comment about the subpoena or the possible involvement of a third St. Landry Parish school board member.
The subpoena claims that in 2002, Southern University records were altered on behalf of Fisher to falsely show that she completed a series of courses between the fall of 1999 and the summer of 2000.
“Southern University’s investigation indicated that while Ms. Fisher’s official transcript purportedly showed completion of these classes, there was no record of her having paid tuition, the grade reports filed by the professors in these classes did not contain her name, that she did not attend those classes,” Pethke said in the subpoena.
The subpoena said another batch of Fisher’s academic records at Southern University were apparently altered to falsely reflect that Fisher had completed a series of graduate level special education courses.
Fisher later allegedly used the courses to obtain a state special education certificate that allowed her to teach mildly to moderately disabled students.
The subpoena noted that Southern University’s internal investigation found no record that Fisher had ever enrolled or attended those courses. On behalf of Fisher, Opelousas attorney Jarvis Claiborne issued a statement saying that his client had not yet been indicted or convicted of any crime, and should be presumed innocent.
Slaughter said prosecutors appear to be focusing on high-profile recipients of the bogus grades in order to garner additional evidence against a former Southern University assistant registrar who is suspected of masterminding the grade scandal.
Slaughter did not identify the assistant registrar by name, but Southern University records show that Cleo Carroll served in that job before he was terminated last year (see Black Issues, April 22). And in an internal report, campus auditors say they found evidence that Carroll allegedly sold fraudulent grades and transcripts.
Meanwhile, Southern University Chancellor Edward Jackson said his campus is proceeding with a series of hearings aimed at giving a chance for the 541 grade-buying suspects to defend themselves against revocation of bogus grades and degrees.
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