EL PASO - Jury selection is underway in the trial of five El Paso Independent School District administrators accused of taking part in the district's cheating scandal.
Judge David Briones denied a motion for a change of venue this morning during a status hearing at the El Paso Federal Courthouse. Defense attorneys in the case argued a jury could not be selected due to media coverage and a small number of jurors in the pool. Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys only have 52 jurors from which to choose 12 jurors and two alternates.
Former EPISD Associate Superintendent James Anderson, former Austin High School Principal John Tanner and Assistant Principal Mark Tegmeyer are charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Government. Former Austin Assistant Principal Diane Thomas is charged with retaliating against a witness or a victim. Former Austin Assistant Principal Nancy Love is charged with retaliating against a witness or victim and false declaration before a grand jury.
According to court documents obtained by ABC-7, the cheating scandal was designed artificially inflate schools' federal accountability scores. The administrators allegedly engaged in schemes designed to discourage at-risk students from registering in schools, underrepresent at-risk student populations within the schools and fraudulently award class credits to students to falsely increase graduation rates of schools, change attendance records of students and manipulate students grade levels to avoid state accountability tests.
During the course of the investigation, Anderson allegedly to the FBI about the facts. Once Tanner, Tegmeyer, Thomas and Love learned that two Austin teachers were cooperating with the FBI, they allegedly retaliated against them and removed them from campus.
Briones has blocked out the next several weeks for the trial. The potential witness list includes 219 names, including former EPISD Assistant Superintendent Damon Murphy, former EPISD Interim Superintendent Terri Jordan and El Paso Times editor Bob Moore.
If the jury is selected Monday and the trial begins, ABC-7 will provide complete coverage.