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Sunday, December 20, 2020

Florida couple charged with racketeering and fraud in scheme selling teacher certification test questions

Posted By on Sun, Dec 20, 2020 at 1:14 PM

Richard Corcoran called the allegations “abhorrent, unacceptable, and embarrassing.” - PHOTO VIA RICHARD CORCORAN | FACEBOOK
  • Photo via Richard Corcoran | Facebook
  • Richard Corcoran called the allegations “abhorrent, unacceptable, and embarrassing.”

An Estero couple, both educators, entered not-guilty pleas in federal court after being hit with more than 100 wire-fraud and racketeering charges stemming from an alleged scheme that involved selling Florida teacher-certification test information.

Kathleen M. Jasper, 42, and Jeremy M. Jasper, 40, are alleged between January 2016 and March 2020 to have sold fraudulently obtained content from the Florida Teacher Certification Exam and the Florida Educational Leadership Exam, which is for administrators. Authorities said the content was included in test preparation materials and services sold through their business NavaEd, LLC.

Lawrence Keefe, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Florida, told reporters Friday that “a significant number” of people and organizations obtained the questions and answers and were part of the dissemination. But Keefe, pointing to an ongoing investigation, declined to say how much money was involved or the number of educators who might have worked with the Jaspers and NavaEd, which offered tutoring and training for the two exams in addition to other prep materials.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran called the allegations “abhorrent, unacceptable, and embarrassing.”

“If the charged allegations are proven, stealing questions from Florida’s teacher certification exams and then profiting by selling live test questions, especially to unknowing educators, is despicable,” Corcoran said in a prepared statement. “The extreme misuse of these test questions is a direct slap in the face to Florida educators who work hard every day to instill strong moral values and academic integrity into the lives, and character, of our students.”

In court on Friday, it was noted the Jaspers have sold more than 10,000 guides worldwide.

Attorneys for the Jaspers said after the hearing that the couple “completely disagrees” with the allegations, maintaining the test information being sold and used in tutoring was already on the Florida Department of Education website.

“So, how can they be trade secrets? That's the heart of the defense,” said Thomas Findley, Jeremy Jasper’s attorney. “They're helping teachers, and they’re helping students pass exams, just like any other prep course. This is a very aggressive indictment.”

The couple, who were not detained after being processed, will be allowed to continue to sell educational guides and offer tutoring unrelated to the two exams. Before the hearing, the Jaspers turned over their passports to the court.

Attorney Stephen Dobson, representing Kathleen Jasper, said the case should be considered civil rather than criminal.

In a 65-page indictment, issued by a federal grand jury on Dec. 1 and unsealed Thursday, the Jaspers were charged with racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, a combined 108 counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and three counts of theft of trade secrets. 

According to the indictment, the Jaspers would electronically register to take the exams through the website of state contractor Pearson VUE, in some cases taking particular tests multiple times, during which they would memorize test content, a practice called “harvesting.”

They would later share the test information with NavaEd customers through email, phone, video conferencing and apps and republish the information “verbatim and almost verbatim” into NavaEd test prep publications offered for sale on the company website and through online sites including Amazon and Shopify, according to the allegations.

Federal agencies are involved, in part, because federal tax dollars are used by the Florida Department of Education in the teacher certification evaluation and testing process.

“We have a situation where the misappropriation of these questions and answers have had the effect, potentially, of corrupting the process by which Florida, the third-largest state in this country, tests, evaluates and certifies its teachers as well as its educational leaders, administrators and principals,” Keefe said.

Corcoran said the Department of Education has been working with the U.S. attorney’s office, the U.S Department of Education, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for more than a year on the investigation.

“Additionally, the Department of Education has worked hard over the past year to replace the stolen exam questions with new content to ensure the integrity of the teacher certification exams,” Corcoran said in the statement.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education said any actions regarding educators who used the Jaspers' services await further details from the investigation.

The indictment said the Jaspers were eventually blocked by the state education department from taking exams, which resulted in the couple allegedly instructing NavaEd employees to take the tests. 

The indictment identifies other employees of NavaEd by initials.

The state department provides teacher certifications in more than 30 subjects, with educators required to take and pass one or more subject area exam to become certified in a particular subject. Certifications are valid for five years.

Teachers who want to become administrators must take the Florida Educational Leadership Exam, which is made up of three subtests: leadership for student learning, organizational development and systems leadership.

Minnesota-based Pearson VUE is contracted to administer and score the exams.

Kathleen Jasper has been a licensed teacher in Florida since 2007, with certifications in exceptional student education, educational leadership, English and biology. Jeremy Jasper received a teaching license in Florida in 2010, with certification in areas that include educational leadership, biology, elementary education, mathematics and exceptional student education.



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