Former Cornell Student Sentenced for Loan Fraud
SYRACUSE, NEW YORK – Cavya Chandra, age 26, of Carmel, Indiana, was sentenced today in federal court in Syracuse to serve a 5 year term of probation, to pay a fine of $1,000, and ordered to pay more than $70,000 in restitution to Cornell University, after previously pleading guilty to federal student loan fraud, announced United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith and Geoffrey Wood, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General (ED OIG), Eastern Region. Chandra’s sentence of probation requires her to (1) disclose her plea agreement and criminal conviction to any universities she attends; (2) disclose to her Probation Officer any new applications for financial aid; and (3) abide by an existing repayment agreement with Cornell University requiring her to pay restitution to Cornell, which balance currently exceeds $70,000.00.
Following the sentencing hearing, U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith stated, “Whatever pressure students feel to get into a particular school, it cannot justify fraud. We maximize opportunities for higher education by maintaining the integrity of financial aid programs, including taking action against dishonesty.” Special Agent in Charge Geoffrey Wood stated, “Federal student aid exists so that individuals can pursue and make their dream of a higher education a reality. As the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Education, ensuring that those who steal student aid for their own selfish purposes are stopped and held accountable for their criminal actions is a big part of the mission of ED OIG.”
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.
In pleading guilty, Chandra admitted that in the fall of 2008 Cornell denied her application for admission to its incoming freshman class, after which she applied to Carnegie Mellon University . In doing so, 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 submitting her transfer application to Cornell, she included a forged transcript, falsely representing 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 for that semester. Chandra also submitted to Cornell a fake high school transcript that falsely inflated her grades and included a forged letter of recommendation from a high school teacher. Unaware of Chandra’s fraud, Cornell admitted her as a transfer student for the fall 2010 semester.
While enrolled at Cornell, Chandra ultimately received more than $130,000 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 to AMCAS, Chandra submitted forged transcripts from Carnegie Mellon and from Cornell. AMCAS reported to Cornell that it suspected Chandra had sent a fraudulent transcript, and Cornell launched an internal investigation, during which it uncovered her admissions fraud. When confronted by a university official, Chandra admitted that she had falsified information in her transfer application. Cornell expelled Chandra in November 2013.
Following her expulsion from Cornell, Chandra applied for admission as a transfer student to IUPUI. In doing so, Chandra again prepared and 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. Cavya Chandra graduated from IUPUI in 2015. When Chandra’s fraud came to light the following year, IUPUI rescinded her degree.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General with assistance from Cornell University, and it was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry.