Ex-Hall deputy not questioned in cheating case

If the criminal case against Beverly Hall hinges on testimony from inside the Atlanta schools’ alleged cheating conspiracy, it apparently won’t come from the former superintendent’s second-in-command.

Kathy Augustine, a close associate of Hall’s since the 1990s, received no immunity from prosecution in exchange for incriminating Hall or others, her lawyer, Keith Adams, said Friday. Fulton County prosecutors never even interrogated Augustine, he said. Nor did the grand jury that indicted Hall and 34 others last week on racketeering and other charges ever call her to testify.

“She is not a cooperating witness,” Adams said. In addition, “we do not think there is anything she did that is indictable.”

Augustine, 62, was Atlanta’s deputy school superintendent for most of Hall’s 12-year tenure. She was the highest-ranking official who was not charged in the cheating case, which alleges that administrators and teachers operated a criminal enterprise that manipulated standardized-test scores for their financial and professional benefit. All the defendants have denied the charges.

Augustine’s absence from the indictment — her name warranted not a single mention in the 94-page document — mystified lawyers and others involved in the case and stirred speculation that she had turned on Hall or other defendants.

A spokeswoman for Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday. Earlier in the week, Howard’s office declined to discuss how prosecutors decided to seek charges against some school officials but not others.

Prosecutors simply may have lacked the evidence to charge Augustine, public records and interviews suggest.

In July 2011, state investigators accused 178 Atlanta educators of participating in a widespread cheating scheme. They said Augustine had lied — but, unlike Hall and others, not in a criminal manner.

Augustine “caused and allowed” Hall to send state education officials a letter claiming, falsely, that an internal investigation had disproved cheating allegations at one school, the investigators said. But while they said Augustine “made false statements” about the school, the investigators did not allege that she lied to them directly.

The indictment charges several defendants, including Hall, with lying not only to investigators, but on official documents when they certified the veracity of test scores. As deputy superintendent, Augustine had no role in certifying the scores, said Adams, her lawyer.

The investigators’ report, however, does say that Augustine was responsible for “aiding and abetting Dr. Hall in falsifying, misrepresenting or erroneously reporting” test scores.

The report broadly criticized Augustine’s job performance, quoting her assertion that she should not be held accountable for cheating in classrooms under her authority.

“While this may be an appropriate defense to criminal charges,” the report said, “it is an absurd leadership concept.”

In response, Augustine denied any involvement in cheating. “I have cooperated with the investigation and have made myself available at all times when requested,” she said in a statement. “I have never knowingly made false statements, nor have I misrepresented any facts to any investigating authority.”

At the time, Augustine was preparing to start a new job, as superintendent of a small school district near Dallas. But as the Atlanta scandal deepened, the district rescinded the offer and bought out her three-year contract, under which she would have earned $188,000 a year.

Augustine returned to Atlanta, Adams said, and remains unemployed.

Adams said he doesn’t know whether Augustine still might face charges. But he said that even if prosecutors had offered her immunity, Augustine could have provided little help in making a case against Hall and others.

“Anything Dr. Augustine would have had to say may have helped the state get a better view of why they ought to not indict some of the people that they indicted,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything she would have said that would implicate Dr. Hall in any criminal activity.”

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