Former Cornell Student Pleads Guilty to Loan Fraud
Cavya Chandra Obtained Admission to Multiple Universities by Forging Transcripts and Letters of Recommendation
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – Cavya Chandra, 26, of Carmel, Indiana, pled guilty today in federal court in Syracuse to one count of student loan fraud, announced Acting United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith and Debbi Mayer, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Education-Office of Inspector General (ED OIG), Northeastern Regional Office.
As part of her guilty plea, Chandra admitted that between 2008 and 2014 she obtained admission to, and attended, three universities—Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (“IUPUI”)—by forging various documents, including academic transcripts and letters of recommendation. The charge to which Chandra pled guilty relates to her fraudulent acceptance of federal student loan money while attending Cornell, but her written plea agreement lays out Chandra’s broader pattern of defrauding several universities.
As part of her guilty plea, Chandra admitted that in 2008 she was denied admission to the freshman class at Cornell University, after which she applied to Carnegie Mellon University. In making that application, Chandra submitted a forged letter of recommendation from a high school teacher. Unaware of this forgery, Carnegie Mellon accepted Chandra’s application and admitted her as a student in the fall of 2009.
In February 2010, during her second semester at Carnegie Mellon, Chandra applied for admission to Cornell as a transfer student. In her transfer application, Chandra submitted a forged transcript to Cornell showing, falsely, that she had received a perfect 4.0 Qualified Point Average (“QPA”) during the fall 2009 semester at Carnegie Mellon. In reality, Chandra had actually received a much lower QPA of 2.79 that semester. Chandra also submitted to Cornell a forged transcript that falsely inflated her high school grades as well as another forged letter of recommendation from a high school teacher.
Unaware of Chandra’s fraud, Cornell admitted Chandra as a transfer student starting in the fall 2010 semester. While enrolled at Cornell, Chandra ultimately received more than $130,000.00 in financial aid, much of which was federal direct student loan money provided by the United States Department of Education. Cornell also provided tens of thousands of dollars in grant assistance to Chandra during her time as a student at Cornell.
In 2013, while still enrolled at Cornell, Chandra began the process of applying for medical school through the American Medical College Application Service (“AMCAS”). As part of her medical school application, Chandra submitted forged transcripts from Carnegie Mellon and from Cornell.
AMCAS reported to Cornell that it suspected Chandra had submitted a fraudulent transcript, and Cornell launched an internal investigation, during which it uncovered Chandra’s previous admissions fraud. When confronted by a university official, Chandra admitted that she had falsified information in her transfer application, and Cornell expelled Chandra in November 2013.
Following her expulsion from Cornell, Chandra applied for admission as a transfer student to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). In doing so, Chandra again submitted forged copies of her Carnegie Mellon and Cornell transcripts, both of which contained falsely inflated grades. IUPUI admitted Chandra as a transfer student and gave her credit for a number of classes that she did not actually take or pass at Cornell. IUPUI conferred a bachelor’s degree on Chandra in 2015. When Chandra’s fraud came to light the following year, IUPUI rescinded Chandra’s degree.
The charge filed against Chandra carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison, a fine of up to $100,000, and a term of supervised release of up to one year. Chandra will be sentenced at a date not yet scheduled by United States Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles. Judge Peebles will formulate a sentence based on the particular statute Chandra is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, and other factors. In this case, however, Chandra and the United States have agreed in their plea agreement to recommend that Judge Peebles impose a sentence of 5 years of Probation during which Chandra would be required to disclose her plea agreement and criminal conviction to any and all universities she attends while on probation, to disclose to her probation officer any new applications for financial aid, and to abide by an existing repayment agreement with Cornell University requiring her to pay Cornell an outstanding financial aid balance of $70,145.81. The parties have also agreed to recommend that Chandra pay a fine of $1,000 as part of her sentence.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education-Office of Inspector General with assistance from Cornell University, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry.