NEWARK, N.J. – Two women today admitted their roles in a conspiracy that fraudulently obtained over $24 million from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a federal education benefits program designed to help veterans who served in the armed forces following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick announced.
Lisa DiBisceglie, 56, of Lavallette, New Jersey, the former Associate Dean of the Office of External Partnerships at Caldwell University, and Helen Sechrist, 61, of Sandy Level, Virginia, a former employee of the Pennsylvania-based company Ed4Mil LLC, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Katharine S. Hayden in Newark federal court to separate informations charging them each with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
“DiBisceglie and Sechrist were part of an elaborate bait-and-switch scheme that stole millions of dollars in Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition assistance,” Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “Instead of receiving a quality education under the Caldwell brand, the veterans that were recruited by Ed4Mil were enrolled in unapproved online courses without their knowledge, all while members of the conspiracy profited from their hard-earned benefits. Prosecuting fraud against the government is always a top concern of our office, especially when the conduct shamelessly exploits our servicemen and women for financial gain.”
“The VA’s Post-9/11 GI Bill is a comprehensive educational program meant to help our nation’s veterans advance their education and careers as they move from military service to civilian life. Defrauding this important VA program costs our nation’s taxpayers and VA and does a tremendous disservice to our veterans,” said Donna L. Neves, Special Agent in Charge, Northeast Field Office, U.S. Department of Veterans, Office of Inspector General. “VA OIG is committed to working closely with our fellow law enforcement partners and thanks the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey for their dedication to this time-intensive, complex case.”
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides educational assistance to eligible veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces by paying for veterans’ tuition, housing costs, and other educational expenses as long as their courses meet certain criteria. Due to the fact that these tuition benefits are paid by the United States directly to the school, all entities involved in developing and administering the courses must be fully disclosed to the United States in order to assess the courses for approval.
From 2009 through August 2013, Ed4Mil founder and president David Alvey, 50, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, along with DiBisceglie, Sechrist, and others, conspired to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in tuition assistance and other education-related benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
As part of the conspiracy, DiBisceglie helped Ed4Mil get approval from Caldwell’s administration to develop and administer a series of non-credit online courses for veterans in Caldwell’s name. In order for the courses to be eligible for education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, DiBisceglie, Alvey, and others prepared and submitted an application with the Veterans Administration stating that the courses were developed, taught, and administered by Caldwell faculty and met Caldwell’s stringent educational standards. As a result, the courses were subsequently approved, and Sechrist, Alvey, and others aggressively marketed the courses to veterans who were eligible to receive the benefits.
However, Caldwell did not participate in developing or teaching the online courses. Instead, the veterans were ultimately enrolled in online correspondence courses developed and administered by a sub-contractor of Ed4Mil. Neither Ed4Mil nor its sub-contractor were disclosed to the government, and neither were eligible to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
At all times during the conspiracy, DiBisceglie, Sechrist, Alvey, and others concealed the true nature of the courses from the government and the veterans who enrolled in the courses. Thousands of veterans enrolled in the online courses believing they were taking courses from Caldwell. Altogether, the scheme caused the United States to pay over $24 million in tuition benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
“Scams like this steal money from hardworking taxpayers and legitimate students – and in this case, our veterans – and that is completely unacceptable,” said Debbi Mayer, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Northeastern Regional Office. “I’m proud of the work of the OIG special agents and our law enforcement partners for holding Ms. DiBisceglie and Ms. Sechrist accountable for their criminal actions.”
“The guilty pleas by DiBisceglie and Sechrist send a clear and unequivocal message that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will relentlessly pursue fraud against the government. These crimes are especially egregious since they target our veterans and the educational system,” stated Timothy Gallagher, Special Agent in Charge of the Newark FBI Field Office.
The wire fraud conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing for both defendants is scheduled for Jan. 24, 2018.
The charge and allegations against Alvey are still pending, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick credited special agents of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, Criminal Investigation Division, Northeast field office, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Neves in Newark; the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Gallagher in Newark; and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mayer of the Northeastern Region, with the ongoing investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David M. Eskew, David Malagold, and Nicole Mastropieri of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jafer Aftab of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit.
DiBisceglie: Gray Broughton Esq., Richmond, Virginia and John Morgenstern, Esq., Philadelphia
Sechrist: Richard Verde, Esq., North Caldwell, New Jersey