Florida couple charged with stealing state trade secrets

VIDEO: As many as 10,000 Florida teachers and principles are believed to have passed their certification exams using materials the federal government alleges were stolen from the state.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As many as 10,000 Florida teachers and principles are believed to have passed their certification exams using materials the federal government alleges were stolen from the state.

The Lee County couple behind the prep course that used the materials now face lengthy prison terms.

Kathleen Jasper, 42, and her husband, Jeremy, 40, face 108 counts of wire fraud and three counts of stealing trade secrets, in this case the contents of the teacher certification exam and the executive leadership exam.

As the couple entered the court, they were asked if they believed they had committed a crime. “We’re not going to talk to you,” Jeremy Jasper told a reporter. Once inside the courthouse, they surrendered their passports.

“The defendants in this case are accused of breaching the conditions of taking the test,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Keen, the lead prosecutor, said Friday.

Keen said the couple took the exams multiple times with the goal of memorizing the test questions and then sold what they had gleaned through their company, NavaEd. As many as 10,000 certified teachers and principles may have taken the courses the couple offered. The couple’s indictment states an unspecified number of school districts, colleges and universities encouraged applicants to use NavaEd.

“It isn’t simply that trade secrets that were stolen, which is a crime, but it’s the secondary direct impact it has on potentially compromising the integrity of the process by which the state of Florida tests, evaluates and certifies its teachers and principles,” said Lawrence Keefe, U.S. Attorney for Florida’s Northern District.

After the Department of Education became suspicious, the couple was forbidden from taking the certification exam. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said the Department of Education has been working with law enforcement, both state and federal, for more than a year on the investigation. He said the department has also worked to replace the questions at issue to preserve the integrity of teacher certification exams.

“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. “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.”

Attorney Thomas Findley, who represents Jeremy Jasper, said the couple is innocent. He said the content his client is accused of stealing was already available on the state Department of Education’s website.

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

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

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.

As the case moves forward, the couple is forbidden from using the materials in question, but may continue to operate their business to provide prep courses not related to teacher certification exams.

About the Authors:

Jim is a Capitol reporter for the News Service of Florida, providing coverage on issues ranging from transportation and the environment to Legislative and Cabinet politics.