Greenwood Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud the VA
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of South Carolina
Contact Person: Bill Watkins (864) 282-2100
Columbia, South Carolina ---- United States Attorney Bill Nettles stated today that Charles B. Harris, age 48, of Ninety-Six, South Carolina, pled guilty yesterday in federal court in Anderson, to conspiracy to defraud the United States. United States District Judge Timothy M. Cain of Anderson accepted the plea and will sentence Harris after the U.S. Probation Office has prepared a pre-sentence report.
Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that from 2011-2014 Harris owned and operated the Greenwood Barber College. The school was approved by the VA to teach veterans the skill of barbering. Harris was the certifying official who agreed to accurately monitor and report student attendance and academic progress.
In December 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs received a complaint that Harris was conspiring with various veterans in stealing Government funds. Agents opened an investigation and interviewed several of Harris’ students. The students told agents that so long as they paid Harris $400 per month, he did not require them to attend class. Harris would falsify documents indicating their attendance and progress so the students could continue to receive VA educational benefits.
On February 6, 2014, agents interviewed Harris at the Greenwood Barber College. Harris admitted to helping veterans sign up for the Veteran Retraining Assistance Program (“VRAP”) and other VA programs offering financial aid for career training. He would then enroll them in the Greenwood Barber College. Harris admitted that he would not require the veterans (whether VRAP or another program) to actually attend classes at the Greenwood Barber College and that he would falsify records documenting the attendance and performance of the veterans. So long as the veterans paid Harris $400 per month, he kept them enrolled in the school. Harris said that he knew what he did was wrong and was he was sorry. Agents estimate that the actual loss to the VA is greater than $140,000.
Mr. Nettles states that the maximum penalty Harris could face is 5 years in prison, and/or a $250,000 fine, 3 years of supervised release, and a special assessment of $100.
The case was investigated by agents of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of the Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney Bill Watkins of the Greenville office handled the case.
Updated April 10, 2015