Architect of multi-million-dollar education fraud involving scuba dive shops sentenced to years in federal prison
BRUNSWICK, GA: The training director of a Camden County dive shop has admitted participating in the submission of false claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for scuba classes targeting military veterans’ education benefits.
John Spyker, 39, of Yulee, Fla., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to an Information charging him with False, Fictitious, and Fraudulent Claims, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The guilty plea subjects Spyker to a possible statutory penalty of up to five years in prison, along with substantial financial penalties and restitution, and up to three years of supervised release following any prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.
“As the sixth defendant admitting culpability in this investigation, John Spyker represents one more falling domino in the effort to unravel this substantial theft of veterans’ education benefits,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “The VA Office of Inspector General continues to do outstanding work in identifying and ending this fraud.”
Spyker, a School Certifying Official and Director of Training at Diver’s Den in St. Marys, Ga., admitted that from about January 2021 through January 2022, he, and others, submitted false and fraudulent information to the Department of Veterans Affairs for tuition payments under the Post-9/11 GI Bill totaling $722,399.19.
Five other defendants who previously entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court are owners, managers, and/or instructors at Diver’s Den and at Scooba Shack in Savannah and Richmond Hill, Ga. Collectively, the defendants are responsible for defrauding more than $6 million from VA education benefits.
As described in court documents, the defendants caused false submissions to be made to the VA. The false submissions misstated the businesses’ compliance with VA regulations, dates of students’ attendance, and hours of instructions, among other information. Some of the defendants also participated in creating fictitious scholarship programs to provide the appearance that a required percentage of non-VA students participated in those classes. The businesses billed the VA up to more than $20,000 per veteran student enrollee for the classes.
“Safeguarding Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefit funds reserved for deserving veterans remains a priority, and our investigators are working diligently in the field to ensure these programs are not exploited for financial gain and greed,” said Special Agent in Charge David Spilker with the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General’s Southeast Field Office. “Six guilty pleas in this case is a testament of our commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who would defraud VA’s benefits programs.”
The case is being investigated by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, and prosecuted for the United States by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia.
Barry L. Paschal, Public Affairs Officer: 912-652-4422