COLUMBUS, Ga. — Three Georgia women and an Alabama man pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to defraud the U.S. Department of Education’s federal financial aid programs of millions of dollars.
The U.S. Department of Justice confirmed that Sandra Anderson, 63, of Palmetto, Georgia; Yolanda Thomas, 51, of Columbus, Georgia; Kristina Parker, 35, of Stone Mountain, Georgia; and Leo Thomas, 56, of Phoenix City, Alabama, pleaded guilty in the elaborate scheme involving a sham university, WSB-TV reported.
Anderson, identified by the DOJ as the scheme’s architect, pleaded guilty alongside Yolanda Thomas and Parker to one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, five counts each of wire fraud and four counts each of financial aid fraud, according to the TV station.
Each woman faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the conspiracy and wire fraud charges and five years each in prison on each of the financial aid fraud charges, WSB reported.
Meanwhile, Leo Thomas pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, the TV station reported.
Federal prosecutors alleged that the quartet promoted a bogus Columbus, Georgia, satellite campus of the Apex School of Theology. The private, for-profit Apex, which has since been shut down, offered theology, Christian education and divinity programs, among others, the TV station reported.
According to the Justice Department, all four co-conspirators admitted to enrolling people who were not eligible to attend college as fraudulent Apex students. The schemers then completed financial aid applications in the fake students’ names, completed the fake students’ homework and exams, served as teachers and manipulated grade requirements so that the nonexistent students could continue qualifying for federal financial aid.
The foursome then either stole the fake students’ financial aid refund checks outright or required the bogus students to hand over at least a portion of those aid checks once they were cashed, the DOJ stated.
Sentencing for all four defendants is slated for Dec. 15, the DOJ confirmed.
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