DETROIT (WWJ) – Criminal charges have been filed against eleven people from Wayne and Macomb counties for their alleged roles in at least four student-loan fraud schemes totaling more than $1 million.
Those charged include: 50-year-old Nina Cooks, of Detroit; 40-year-old Sandra Roberts, of Detroit; 60-year-old Jacquelyn Robinson, of Detroit; 55-year-old Luther Hampton, of Eastpointe; 49-year-old Ulysses Hampton, of Westland; 23-year-old Ulysses Hampton Jr., of Detroit; 45-year-old Brian Hickman, of Detroit; 23-year-old Jason Watkins, of Clinton Township; 61-year-old Candace Cureton, of Detroit; 35-year-old Malayka Burks, of Detroit; and 47-year-old Shirley Jimerson, of Detroit.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, eleven individuals charged orchestrated the fraud rings independently of one another between 2006 and 2010.
One ringleader is alleged to have recruited more than 40 people to apply as students for enrollment and aid, even though most had neither a high school diploma nor a GED and were therefore ineligible to receive federal student aid. As a result, participants received more than $665,604.00 in federal student aid. Meanwhile, two of the same ringleader’s brothers orchestrated a similar scheme.
“Student aid is not a slush fund for criminals; it provides an opportunity for honest, hard-working students who wish to make their dream of a higher education a reality,” Inspector General Kathleen Tighe of the U.S. Department of Education said in a statement.
Since 2010, the Department of Education, Office of Inspector General has highlighted the vulnerability of distance education programs to fraud and abuse. All aspects of distance education-admission, student financial aid, and course instruction-take place through the internet, and students are not required to present themselves in person at any point.
Institutions offering distance education, like all institutions that participate in the federal student aid programs, are not required to verify prospective and enrolled students’ identities, so fraud ringleaders are able to use the identities of others, with or without their consent, to target distance education programs. Never needing to set foot on campus, fraud ring participants can exploit institutions well outside their immediate geographic area.
“Taxpayers fund federal financial assistance programs to permit needy students to obtain a higher education,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said. “Stealing these funds robs students of educational opportunities and cheats members of the public from their investment in an educated population.”
The rings target mainly lower-cost institutions because federal student aid awards easily cover tuition resulting in a higher award balance (known as a refund) paid to the student and intended for educational expenses such as books and room and board. It is these financial aid refund awards which the fraud ring participants seek.
The student applicants have no intention of pursuing a degree, and often are not even eligible for federal student aid because they do not have a legitimate high school diploma or GED. The participants take a cut of the financial aid refund proceeds and the turn the remainder over to the ringleaders.