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Former EPISD official enters guilty plea in cheating scandal

A former El Paso Independent School District employee involved in a district wide cheating scandal pleaded guilty Friday, according to court records.

A plea agreement was filed in December that would have Damon Murphy plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the federal government, and in return, the remaining charges would be dropped.

According to the Department of Justice, Murphy gave EPISD high school principals "marching orders" to "put up barriers" to prevent 9th grade limited English proficiency students, and other students who could perform poorly on the TAKS test, from going on to the 10th grade.

Murphy and other EPISD officials are accused of conspiring to manipulate grade classifications, academic performance and demographic makeup between 2006 and 2013.

Murphy and others implemented a plan using partial course credits for the 10th grade to reclassify and promote those held-back students to the 11th grade. That then circumvented all mandated testing and accountability procedures including the 10th grade TAKS test, the Department of Justice said.

A criminal indictment alleged that Murphy tried to keep the number of LEP students under 50 at each campus.

The indictment also said that Murphy directed EPISD principals to keep LEP students out of 10th grade, where they would have to take assessment tests.

Murphy’s attorney, Darren Ligon, did not grant our request for an interview. He said the only comment that was appropriate for the time was something Murphy said earlier Friday, “I hope this brings closure to the students and families and greater El Paso community.”

In exchange for pleading guilty, prosecutors dropped conspiracy to commit mail fraud and fraud and swindles charges. They also agreed not to pursue any charges against Murphy for things he might have done during his tenure at Canutillo Independent School District.

Murphy faces up to five years in federal prison. He also faces up to $250,000 in restitution fines and three years of supervised release.

Along with the possible prison sentence and fine, the plea deal requires Murphy to cooperate with federal investigators and "Testify when requires at any trial on the merits or other proceedings."

Sentencing is set to happen in early April.

Murphy is the fifth person to plead guilty in the EPISD cheating scandal. Others include:

- Former Superintendent Lorenzo GarcÍa

-Former Priority Schools Division Director Myrna Gamboa

- Former Priority Schools Division Director Vanessa Foreman

- Former Priority Schools Division Director Maria Flores

Five others are still awaiting trial, which is set for February. They are:

- Former Austin High School Principal John Tanner

- Former Austin Assistant Principal Mark Tegmeyer

- Former Austin Assistant Principal Nancy Love

- Former Austin Assistant Principal Diane Thomas

- Former Assistant Superintendent James Anderson

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