Friday, February 1, 2013

The Curious Case of Clarence Mumford

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 5:42 PM

Is Clarence Mumford a criminal mastermind and Public Enemy Number One in education? Or is he this year's version of Logan Young, the late Memphis football booster who was hauled into federal court and convicted in 2005 for paying a football coach to influence a recruiting prospect?

The United States Department of Justice and federal prosecutors in Memphis seem to think the former. Mumford was in court Friday to change his plea to guilty to charges that he organized a scheme to get stand-ins to take certification tests for teachers in Memphis, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Mumford made money on the deals, probably quite a lot of it. He charged his customers $1,000 to $6,000 for multiple tests, according to a presentation of the case Friday. He started arranging bogus tests in 1995, and wasn't sniffed out until 2010 when a phony test taker wore the same pink cap to two sessions in one day and caught the attention of a monitor.

The cap gaffe wasn't the only one in the sometimes zany fraud. One proxy was obviously decades younger than her license plate (phony) match. Another proxy was male but the name on the ID was a woman's name. Some phony test takers flunked. Others scored so high compared to the real applicant that they aroused the suspicions of the testing company. One of Mumford's customers paid $6,000 and still didn't pass. The subject matter included physical education, guidance and counseling, biology, and elementary education. These were apparently earnest applicants who had no business whatsover being teachers apart from their chicanery.

Mumford, 59, faces up to seven years in prison when he is sentenced in May. His case has drawn national attention and, by ricochet, created more negative publicity for the Memphis City Schools system where he used to work as an assistant principal. He got business from a number of small towns in Mississippi and Arkansas as well as Memphis and Shelby County.

Had Mumford not pleaded guilty and gone to trial instead, he could have faced what would have amounted to a life sentence if convicted. His guilty plea followed a week of introspection about the unfairness of it all. Apparently, the delay, or possibly his professed determination to leave his fate in the hands of a higher power, didn't hurt.

"Maybe that higher power works," said his lawyer, Coleman Garrett.

Mumford didn't say anything to anyone, except "yes sir" to the judge's routine questions. He looked like an undertaker, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and matching tie and pocket handkerchief. Except it was his funeral.

The news is filled with reports of violent criminals and financial scammers who rip off investors yet have been treated less harshly. His maximum sentence is in the same range as Melvin Victor Robinson, 32, a former Memphis Police Officer, who was sentenced Friday to 84 months in federal prison following his guilty plea to civil rights violations and attempting to possess 10 kilograms of cocaine with the intent to distribute. Teachers who organized parties to rig student test results in Atlanta have not been punished criminally. Derrick Rose, who the NCAA says had a stand-in take his college entrance exam, left college and became MVP of the NBA. We shall see what becomes of Lance Armstrong.

Mumford is non-violent and reportedly repentant, but he was a "ringleader" in the eyes of the feds, and his scheme comes at a time when public education is in the national spotlight. He lured some innocent people into his web. The teachers who faked their tests have been cooperating in the investigation. Some of those who paid were desperate after flunking the certification test multiple times. Pity them, and the kids who were in their classes.

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