United States Prevails in Civil Suit Against For-Profit College Chain and its President for False Claims Act Violations
Court Awards Government Over $12 Million in damages and Imposes Additional $10 Million in Civil Penalties
On Feb. 15, U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke entered a Final Judgment of more than $20 million in favor of the United States in a civil suit against FastTrain II Corp. d/b/a FastTrain College (FastTrain) and its President and owner, Alejandro Amor (Amor), for having defrauded the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by submitting falsified documents to obtain federal student aid funds in connection with ineligible students, announced U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer for the Southern District of Florida.
At its peak, FastTrain operated seven Florida campuses in Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Duval counties. From at least January 2010 through June 2012, when FastTrain closed, FastTrain and Amor knowingly submitted fake high school diploma and GED information to receive improper federal Title IV funds – through the Federal Pell Grant Program, the Federal Direct Loan Program, the Federal Family Education Loan Program, and the Campus Based Programs that financially assist eligible students in obtaining a post-secondary education. Also, at Amor’s direction, FastTrain admissions employees instructed and counseled ineligible prospective students to lie on their federal student aid applications. As a result of Amor’s fraudulent scheme and false representations of eligibility, FastTrain received millions of dollars of unearned student financial aid.
The Court’s ruling was clear: “The student victims in this case were especially vulnerable. They were young people who, for whatever reasons, had not graduated high school. Realizing there are few jobs one can obtain without a high-school diploma or equivalent degree, they turned to FastTrain, hoping to learn marketable skills to improve their chances of making a decent living. FastTrain aggressively recruited these students, and then used fraud to make the Government think they were eligible for federal aid and loans. FastTrain bilked the Government out of millions of dollars, most of which ended up in Amor’s pockets. As for the student victims, many now carry debt that will be enormously difficult to pay off with what they can earn working the low-level jobs for which they are qualified. The effects of Amor’s fraudulent acts are thus abhorrent and far-reaching.”
The Court awarded damages in favor of the United States in excess of $12 million. In addition, the Court imposed over $10 million in civil penalties against the defendants.
“Alejandro Amor and his co-conspirators preyed on vulnerable men and women who sought educational assistance to improve their quality of life,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer. “As a result, Fast Train defrauded the students out of a legitimate education and the U.S. government out of federal funds that were intended to help those in need of support. The multi-million dollar penalties and damages in this civil suit, in addition to the lengthy prison term imposed against Mr. Amor in the criminal proceedings should serve as a strong warning that fraud schemes do not pay. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our partners will continue to use both civil enforcement and criminal laws – to protect our taxpayer dollars and ensure that individuals who seek to enhance their lives through a quality education are able to do so without falling victim to devastating schemes.”
“Mr. Amor knowingly and willfully took advantage of innocent students and defrauded America’s taxpayers in a deliberate and methodical way. With his prison sentence and this judgment, he is being held accountable for his criminal actions,” said Special Agent in Charge Yessyka Santana of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Southeastern Regional Office. “I’m proud of the work of the Office of Inspector General and our law enforcement partners in this matter and continuing our work to protect Federal student aid from this type of calculated plunder.”
The United States pursued this civil case alongside criminal proceedings filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida against Amor and other defendants. In November 2015, after a 23-day trial in United States of America v. Alejandro Amor, Case No. 1:14-cr-20750-JAL(s)-1 (S.D. Fla.), a jury convicted Amor of one count of conspiracy to steal Government funds and 12 counts of theft of Government funds. On May 2, 2016, Amor was sentenced to 97 months in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Joan A. Lenard.
The civil case is captioned United States of America, Plaintiff vs. FastTrain II Corp. d/b/a FastTrain College, and Alejandro Amor, Defendants, Case No.: 1:12-cv-21431-COOKE/TORRES, United States District Court, Southern District of Florida. The criminal investigation was underway when a lawsuit was filed by a FastTrain admissions officer, under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act. The admissions officer was later convicted of offenses related to FastTrain’s misconduct and subsequently was dismissed from the civil suit.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Weinkle litigated the civil case. U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the contributions of U.S. Department of Education Office of General Counsel attorneys Russell Wolff and Christina Bixby and investigative efforts of Special Agent Jason Williams and former Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kristen Frias, and Special Agent Joel Veiguela and Nicole Eisenzopf of the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education and Special Agent Mary Wilson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.