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Press Release

Jacksonville Man Pleaded Guilty to Student Aid Fraud and Possessing Firearm in Furtherance of Drug Trafficking Offense

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of North Carolina

WILMINGTON, N.C. – A Jacksonville man pleaded guilty yesterday to using identities of family members, drug addicts and homeless people to steal over a quarter of a million dollars in federal student aid funds, as well as possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.

The defendant exploited homeless people, trafficked drugs and took over a quarter of a million dollars intended to support education,” said Michael Easley, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “My office is working with law enforcement to uncover and stop those who traffic drugs, steal from taxpayers, and prey on the most vulnerable in our communities.”  

According to court documents, Duane Montrik Burton, age 47 of Jacksonville pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Student Aid Fraud, Aggravated Identity Theft and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Offense.  Burton conspired with others to defraud the United States Department of Education by fraudulently obtaining federal student aid funds.  Between 2014 and 2020, Burton sought nearly $300,000 in federal student aid funds in the names of 28 individuals. According to the Government’s statement during the plea hearing, Burton tricked homeless people at a shelter into giving him their personal information by falsely claiming he was collecting information for the census.  Burton also got names and personal information in exchange for illegal narcotics, which he used to fraudulently obtain student aid funds.

“Federal student aid exists so that individuals can make their dream of a higher education a reality. Ensuring those who steal student aid – through identity theft or any other means – are stopped and held accountable for their criminal actions is a big part of our mission,” said Terry Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Eastern Regional Office. 

Additional Case Information

Burton submitted false information on the Free Application for Student Aid, commonly referred to as a FAFSA, provided fabricated documents and recruited others to take General Equivalency Exams and Placement tests for the named students.  Burton profited by obtaining the refunds issued by Cape Fear Community College to these straw students, which represented the difference between the costs of tuition and the student aid funds disbursed.  

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.  The aggravated identity theft charge requires the Court to impose a mandatory sentence of two-years imprisonment consecutive to any other sentence relating to the student aid conspiracy.

Based upon items seized in July 2020 from his residence, Burton pleaded guilty to Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Offense.  Law enforcement found various amounts of cocaine, marijuana and opiates as wells as items indicative of drug trafficking, including a scale, cutting agent, packaging material, $9,000 cash, and a loaded firearm.  For this charge, Burton faces a mandatory sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after Chief U.S. District Judge Richard E. Myers II accepted the plea. The United States Department of Education Office of the Inspector General is investigating the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan B. Menzer is prosecuting the case.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 4:22-cr-00013-M.


Updated April 22, 2022

Drug Trafficking
Financial Fraud