Four individuals pleaded guilty today to conspiring to defraud the Department of Education’s financial aid programs of millions of dollars in federal funds.
According to court documents and statements made in connection with their guilty pleas, Sandra Anderson, 63, of Palmetto, Georgia; Yolanda Thomas, 51, of Columbus, Georgia; Leo Thomas, 56, of Phenix City, Alabama; Kristina Parker, 35, of Stone Mountain, Georgia; and their co-conspirators fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in federal financial aid funds that they misused for their personal benefit. They did so by creating an elaborate sham university – the Columbus, Georgia, satellite campus of the Apex School of Theology.
As part of their guilty pleas, the co-conspirators admitted that, at Anderson’s direction, they enrolled individuals at Apex who agreed to pose as students, knowing that those individuals did not qualify to enroll in college or graduate school. The co-conspirators then fraudulently completed financial aid applications in students’ names and completed students’ homework and exams. The co-conspirators also served as teachers and manipulated student grades to ensure that the purported students could meet the minimum grade requirements to continue to qualify for federal financial aid. Then, the co-conspirators either stole student financial aid refund checks outright or required students to cash their aid checks and provide a portion to the co-conspirators.
Anderson, Yolanda Thomas, and Parker each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, five counts of wire fraud, and four counts of financial aid fraud. They each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each of the conspiracy and wire fraud charges, and five years in prison on each of the financial aid fraud charges. Leo Thomas pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. All defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 15. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary for the Middle District of Georgia; Special Agent in Charge Keri E. Farley of the FBI Atlanta Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Reginald J. France of the Department of Education Office of Inspector General (ED-OIG), Southeastern Regional Office; and Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.
The FBI, ED-OIG, and IRS-CI are investigating the case.
Assistant Chief Leslie S. Garthwaite and Trial Attorneys Matt Kahn, Siji Moore, and Spencer Ryan of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case, with valuable assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia.