Two Members of Federal Financial Aid Fraud Conspiracy Plead Guilty
Contact Person: Beth Drake (803) 929-3000
Columbia, South Carolina ---- United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that Fiasha A. Paul, age 26, of Due West, South Carolina, and Tarshikia P. Pickens, age 27, of Anderson, South Carolina, pled guilty today in federal court in Spartanburg, to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349. United States District Judge Mary G. Lewis of Spartanburg accepted the plea and will impose sentence after she has reviewed the presentence report which will be prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.
Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that there existed a conspiracy surrounding Piedmont Technical College, Abbeville Campus (“Piedmont Tech”). The essence of the scheme was that individuals desiring to obtain financial aid checks paid proctors and others to take a placement test for them so they could enroll at Piedmont Tech. Many of these individuals seeking checks did not have high school diplomas or GEDs. Hence, they had to earn a minimum score on the placement test to be permitted to enroll and to collect federal financial aid. In addition to the fraud with the tests, some members of the conspiracy also created false high school diplomas that were sent to the school. Those that fraudulently enrolled did not attend classes, and simply took the financial aid checks and used them for personal expenses. The financial aid checks were sent out in the mail to members of the conspiracy.
Paul was a former employee of Piedmont Tech and worked as a placement test proctor. She admitted to taking placement tests for multiple individuals and allowing co-conspirators to take the tests for others for prospective students. Paul’s typical fee was $300 to take the test. Paul took the test for Pickens, which caused Pickens to receive over $9000 in financial aid that she was not entitled to. Law enforcement estimates that the conspiracy obtain over $50,000 in financial aid checks from 2010 to 2012.
Mr. Nettles stated the maximum penalty Defendants can receive is a fine of $250,000 and/or imprisonment for 20 years, plus a special assessment of $100.
The case was investigated by agents of the United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education. Assistant United States Attorney Bill Watkins of the Greenville office handled the case.