Garland ISD teachers left in limbo by corruption scandal

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on April 8, 2014 at 10:49 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 8 at 11:00 PM

GARLAND — A former Garland Independent School District human resources manager is accused of recruiting hundreds of teachers from overseas... then profiting off their moves, their employment, and their attempts to become United States citizens.

The district got a new superintendent in February 2013, and Dr. Bob Morrison said he knew right away there were questionable practices and irregularities in the recruitment of foreign teachers.

The school board hired private attorney Harry Jones to investigate, and on Tuesday morning he laid out what he found.

"Money was being made and privileges were being enjoyed by many people," Jones said. He laid the blame on GISD's former human resources director, Victor Leos.

"Mr. Leos traveled to the Philippines and other places at no cost to himself, bestowed economic benefits to his family, and generated revenue for himself, his associates, and his relatives," Jones said.

Leos allegedly recruited teachers during overseas visits and job fairs within Garland, attracting them to the federal H1-B visa program, promising them a chance at residency if they came to work in GISD.

Jones said Leos sometimes he hired 30 teachers during one recruiting visit.

Once the recruits moved to Garland, Jones said, Leos offered the teachers residency at property owned by his stepson, and required them to seek legal advice with the law firm where his stepdaughter works.

Jones alleges that Leos was also making money from the recruiters and the job fairs.

Garland ISD reported irregularities in the program to the Department of Homeland Security. A federal investigation is now underway, but the teachers are left in limbo.

"Over about a decade, this district filed a total of 642 H1-B visa applications," Jones said. "In that same time frame, a peer district, Mesquite ISD filed 23, and Grand Prairie filed 17."

He said Leos was given "free reign," and was never required to file reports, file a budget, or give an explanation about the program.

"Throughout Mr. Leos's direction of the H1-B program for GISD, there was an extreme lack of oversight by his superior, Associate Superintendent Dr. Gary Reeves," Jones said. "Of course, Dr. Reeves did not know all the abuses being committed by Mr. Leos, but he knew of some, and there were a number of opportunities for Dr. Reeves to step in and stop the corruption of the district's foreign recruitment program."

GISD had a board meeting Tuesday night, and Reeves was there. He said he had no idea he was going to be named during the morning news conference.

"Nobody told me at all," he said. "Since I've been on administrative leave, that's a gag order. I can't talk to anybody. I can't talk to y'all. I can't do all this. And then, the school district has a press conference, has everybody in, and puts everything on the news. And I'm sitting here and can't talk."

Reeves added that he was "disappointed" by Tuesday's developments.

"For a person that's been here 45 years, and one new person comes in and turns the whole district upside down," he said.

At least two dozen teachers' lives are upside down now, too. Their visas expire soon, and the program they trusted to keep them in the country legally is under investigation.

"We understand the law, and we believe in the law, but the law cannot cover the mistakes made by others," teacher Alfonso Casares told the school board Tuesday night.

Bernado Montes, another teacher, also addressed the board. "I received a job offer with a promise for a Green Card; otherwise I wouldn't be here," he said. "I thought everything was legal."

Venezuela native Francisco Marcano said he spent up to $14,000 of his own money. The school district is expecting to spend up to half a million dollars to reimburse the teachers. "I don't think any money is going to really repair the damage," Marcano said.

Marcano said because Leos was the district's human resources director, he trusted him.

"He was the person that sent us to a lawyer, immediately, and of course we did as told," Marcano said. "We did what we thought was right. We were totally unaware of what was happening. We trusted and took for granted things were going to be just great and fine."

Now he's not sure what the next few months hold.

Teacher Jacobo Luna Cruz said he feels betrayed. His visa expires in July.

"You do the right thing; you teach kids to do the right thing; and it's not enough?" he asked. "I cannot believe that doing the right thing is not enough in the U.S."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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