The Department of Justice charges defendants in scam to defraud the government of $12M in student loans.
Six former administrators from the Columbus, Georgia, campus of the Apex School of Theology have been charged by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for their alleged involvement in a scheme to defraud student loan programs. The defendants include Erica Montgomery, 47, of Ft. Mitchell, Alabama, Sandra Anderson, 61, of Columbus, Georgia, Leo Frank Thomas, 54, of Columbus, Georgia, Yolanda Thomas, 50, of Columbus, Georgia, Dorothy Webb, 68, of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Kristina Parker, 33, of Stone Mountain, Georgia.” Each were charged by a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Georgia with “one count of conspiracy, five counts of mail fraud, and five counts of financial aid fraud,” court papers revealed, while Anderson and Montgomery were also charged with money laundering.
The scheme allegedly involved the operation of an off-site learning center in Columbus, Georgia, operating on behalf of the now defunct Apex. The defendants recruited individuals with offers of “free money to act as fake students” and apply for federal financial aid. The fake students were told they did not have to do any work or attend classes but would have to split their aid with the defendants. To further convince the recruits to enroll, they not only falsified applications, but included fake “spiritual autobiographies” claiming to reflect “each recruit’s spiritual journey” that lead the student to the theology school. The indictment further alleges, “The defendants used the funds to personally enrich themselves.”
Court papers list one email exchange between Webb and a student on March 13, 2017. At email sent by Webb stated, “I registered you for the fall 2017. Christmas will be coming up and I figured you can use the extra cash for that.”
The indictment further alleges the defendants “submitted plagiarized work for the students, took their tests, and logged on to the school’s web site as if they were the students” in an effort to fool the Department of Education (DOE). What’s more, they falsified admission packets and applied aid in the names of the students, fraudulently certifying they were the individuals for which they were signing. The indictment indicates, “It was further part of the conspiracy that the co-conspirators created email accounts in student names, in order to impersonate students while communicating with Apex Main, and to defraud Apex Main and [the] DOE.”
In total, the scammers allegedly defunded the Department of Education of more than $12,000,000 in taxpayer funds with money coming from federal student loan programs and from Pell Grants. The Federal Student Aid site indicates, “Student fraud is any situation where an individual falsifies information in order to qualify for student aid. Examples of student fraud include using false information on the FAFSA, such as income or marital status, or reporting an invalid high school diploma.”
“The alleged blatant abuse of a federally funded program by a purported religious affiliated school is an insult to all taxpayers,” said Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of the FBI in Atlanta. “All citizens lose, including students who work hard to earn such funds who may be denied because of the alleged fraud.”