Three people, including two Miami-Dade County school district employees, have been arrested under allegations of organizing a scheme to defraud by selling GED certificates to students willing to pay up to $3,000, the Miami-Dade County State Attorney announced Thursday.
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s office charged Roxanne Insignares and Antonio Bouzan, who respectively worked as a testing administrator and GED registrar at Miami Lakes Educational Center and Technical College, with receiving cash payments from students ranging from $150 to $2,800 in exchange for GED certificates between 2012 and 2016.
A statement by the state attorney’s office incorrectly identified Insignares as the principal of Miami Lakes Educational Center and Technical College, which other media outlets reported.
According to Rundle’s office, Insignares falsified records and submitted fraudulent information to the Florida Department of Education and school district. Bouzan and the third person arrested, Marta Avalos, were identified as “test brokers” who negotiated the sales of the GED certificates provided by Insignares.
Eighteen of 19 GED certificate recipients interviewed during the investigation admitted to paying for their GED. Those 18 individuals told officials they paid in cash and were requested to provide personal information and photos of themselves wearing different clothing.
According to the arrest warrant, the investigation began in June 2016, when a defendant in an unrelated case mentioned to detectives from Miami Beach police and Miami-Dade County Public Schools Office of the Inspector General that he bought a GED for $1,500. He did so for a friend, who told officials she did not take the GED test at the Miami Lakes center or anywhere else.
Investigators found that the proctor for the days that the registration date said the woman took the GED test at Miami Lakes was Insignares, a certified test administrator for a GED testing service called Pearson VUE. Investigators say they subpoenaed Insignares’ personal bank account and found that she used her personal debit card to pay the registration fees for five GED recipients.
This led to hitting Pearson VUE records with subpoenas.
“The Pearson VUE records identified 21 GEDS, all issued under Ms. Insiganares’ credentials, that appeared to be fraudulent,” the arrest warrant says.
Among the things that pointed to fraud on the GEDs were signs the GED candidate used the same photo for different test dates and times, common short answer responses and photos that cast doubt on whether the GED candidate actually was present.
Of those holding the 21 suspicious GEDs, investigators found 19. The warrant says all 19 admitted they didn’t take the GED exam. All but one admitted to paying for their GEDs.
Of those 19, investigators say there were the aforementioned five whose registration was paid for by Insignares. None of them knew her personally. The rest were paid through PayPal or pre-paid VISA cards. And eight of the 19 admitted their email address on file with Pearson VUE really wasn’t theirs. The other 11 didn’t know what email address Pearson VUE had for them.
During 17 of the 19 tests, the warrant said, Insignares submitted a “testing incident report” that described a problem with taking the GED candidate’s photo with the Pearson VUE software. This allowed her to use a backup method of inserting a photo.
As for the two remaining candidates’ photos, Mariela Nunez said she took photos at Miami Lakes, but didn’t take the test. She’s a community liaison specialist at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Adult Education Center.
“Prior to her employment with M-DCPS, Nunez needed to obtain a GED and was referred to Insignares by the center’s principal, Mr. Alexis Cazanas,” the warrant said.
Detectives found the photo that was supposed to be of the other candidate, Luis Berenguer, actually was of Ricardo Hernandez. Hernandez is the treasurer at American High Adult and lives with his ex-boyfriend, Bouzan.
“Mr. Hernandez initially denied having any knowledge of posing for a photograph for a fraudulent GED candidate,” the warrant states. “However, later in his statement, he admitted that he may have posed for the photograph because the facility was having problems with the camera. He explained that he used to go to the MLTC sometimes because Mr. Bouzan worked there ... Mr. Hernandez posed for two photos and changed shirts for the photos.”
In a statement, Miami-Dade Schools spokeswoman Jackie Calzadilla said the district is taking action to terminate the employment of Insignares and Bouzan.
“Miami-Dade County Public Schools takes these allegations of fraud and professional misconduct seriously,” she said. “The school district will take any and all legal action against individuals who seek to compromise the value of a legitimate education and profit from fraudulent activity.”
Calzadilla added that the district will review all the information and evidence gathered by the investigation to determine if any action will be taken against Nunez and Hernandez, the school district employees with falsified credentials.
The arrested trio are being held at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center. Insignares, 45, faces one count of organized scheme to defraud, one count of unlawful compensation for official behavior, 18 counts of official misconduct and 18 counts of cheating.
Insignares is being held on $210,000 bond. She has been employed with the school district since 1991 and had no prior disciplinary action, Calzadilla said, adding that Insignares’ last post was working with 5000 Role Models, a mentoring program for boys.
Bouzan, 62, has been charged with one count of organized scheme to defraud, one count of unlawful compensation for official behavior and six counts of cheating. He is being held on $60,000 bond. Bouzan was working as a secretary/treasurer at Orchard Villa Elementary and had no prior disciplinary action, Calzadilla said.
Avalos, 50, is looking at one count of organized scheme to defraud and six counts of cheating. She is being held at $35,000 bond.