Florida-Based School Chain To Pay United States Government $600,000 For Submitting False Claims For Federal Student Financial Aid
Florida Technical College, Inc. (“FTC”) will pay the United States $600,000 to resolve False Claims Act allegations that FTC’s Cutler Bay Campus (“FTC-Cutler Bay”) falsely certified compliance with federal student aid programs’ eligibility requirements and submitted claims for 27 ineligible students.
Benjamin G. Green, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, made the announcement.
Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (“HEA”), as amended, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1070 et seq. (“Title IV, HEA Programs”), authorizes federal student aid programs. The Title IV, HEA Programs, administered by the United States Department of Education, provide students with financial aid in the form of, among other things, Federal Pell Grants and Federal Direct Loans.
“Federal financial aid is meant to help qualified students obtain a quality education from an eligible institution, and we are committed to ensure colleges comply with the rules to make certain that federal financial aid is provided to those individuals it is meant to assist,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg.
The United States alleged that certain FTC-Cutler Bay employees engaged in fraudulent practices to induce students to enroll in the school. As a result of those admissions personnel, FTC submitted to the U.S. Department of Education false information regarding the eligibility of 27 FTC-Cutler Bay students to receive Title IV, HEA Program funds. Specifically, FTC-Cutler Bay employees provided false documentation that the students had a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent from a qualified secondary school, when the those students did not have such credential.
In providing such false documentation, FTC-Cutler Bay’s enrollment numbers were falsely increased, and consequently, the amount of federal dollars the school received also increased at the expense of taxpayers and students, who incurred long-term debt. FTC cooperated in the investigation and FTC no longer employs the admissions personnel or their managers involved.
The lawsuit was filed on March 8, 2016, by Laurie Astacio, a former administrative assistant in the FTC-Cutler Bay admissions office. She filed the complaint under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private parties to sue on behalf of the government and receive a share of any recovery. The Act also authorizes the government to intervene in and assume primary responsibility for litigating the lawsuit.
“The Office of Inspector General has a unique and special law enforcement mission – to protect public education funds for eligible students. Today’s settlement is an example of our commitment to this mission,” said Neil Sanchez, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Southern Regional Office. “The OIG will continue to pursue allegations of violations of the False Claims Act in carrying out our important public service.”
This matter was investigated and the settlement negotiated by Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Weinkle. The case is captioned U.S. ex rel. Laurie Astacio v. Florida Technical College, Inc., Case No.: 16-20842-CIV-Seitz (S.D. Fla.). The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.