News and Press Releases

A ringleader of a $680,000 student Financial aid fraud
conspiracy sentenced to 27 months in federal prison

September 21, 2012

Contact Person: Beth Drake (803) 929-3000

Columbia, South Carolina---- United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that LENA GANT, age 48, of Walterboro, South Carolina, and MARQUITA FISHBURNE, age 28, of Walterboro, were sentenced today in federal court in Charleston, South Carolina, for Conspiracy to Commit to Commit Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, and Student Financial Aid Fraud, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. United States District Judge David C. Norton of Charleston sentenced GANT to 27 months in federal prison, three years of supervised release, and a mandatory $100 special assessment. GANT was also ordered to pay $133,175.25 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Education. Judge Norton sentenced FISHBURNE to five years of probation and a mandatory $100 special assessment. Judge Norton also ordered FISHBURNE to pay $28,107.75 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Education.

The following co-defendants have also pleaded guilty for their roles in this conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing: Deena Holmes, age 40, of Walterboro; Sierria Thomas, age 24, of Green Pond; Mayella Saxon, age 53, of Fairfax; Helen Ross, age 42, of Williston; Kourtney Fishburne, age 27, of Orlando, Florida; Shanean Glaze, age 32, of Walterboro; Marvin Spell, age 50, of Yemassee; Tameko Fishburne, age 29, of Walterboro; Cleo Fryar, a/k/a Cleo Cooper, age 39, of Walterboro; Latanya Cochran, age 41, of Orangeburg, and Shannon Fishburne, age 33, of Walterboro.

Evidence presented at the change of plea hearings established that GANT and her co-defendant, Latanya Cochran, were the ringleaders of the conspiracy. The conspirators caused to be recruited individuals known as “straw students” who were told that they could get thousands of dollars in student financial aid without having to take online college courses. The “straw students” included family, friends, and co-workers of the conspirators. For example, Tameko Fishburne, an employee at that time of South Carolina Department of Corrections, Allendale Correctional Institution, recruited four of her Allendale Correctional Institution co-workers, including Helen Ross and Mayella Saxon, to participate in the conspiracy. The conspirators used the personal information of the “straw students” to file false online college admissions applications and federal student financial aid applications in the names of the “straw students.” As a result, the conspirators caused student loans and grants and student aid credit balance refund checks to be issued in the name of the “straw students.” The conspirators were paid through “fees” taken from the student aid credit balance refund checks received by the “straw students.” The conspirators caused at least $680,000.00 of student loans and grants to be disbursed in the names of ineligible individuals.

The case was investigated by agents of the United States Department of Education-Office of Inspector General, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the United States Secret Service. Assistant United States Attorney Dean H. Secor of the Charleston office handled the case.                    

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