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Press Release

U.S. Settles Dispute with East. St. Louis School District 189 over Its Americorps Program

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Illinois

East St. Louis, Ill. – East St. Louis School District 189 (ESL189) has paid the United States
$38,510 to resolve a civil False Claims Act investigation into the operation of its AmeriCorps
program, U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft announced today.

AmeriCorps is a federally funded network of national service programs that address critical
community  needs  like  increasing  academic  achievement,  mentoring  youth,  fighting  poverty,
sustaining  national  parks,  preparing  for  disasters,  and  more.  AmeriCorps  volunteers 
(called members)  commit  to  service  for  a  period  of  three  months  to  a  year  in  exchange
 for  a  living allowance, education awards, and other benefits.

To receive an AmeriCorps education award, each volunteer has to complete a specified number of
service hours, among other requirements. Grant recipients like ESL189 are responsible for verifying
and certifying those hours to the Corporation for National and Community Service, now known as
AmeriCorps, which administers the federal grant program.

From 2016 to 2018, ESL189 received over $1 million in federal funding and education awards for its
AmeriCorps program. During that time, the United States claims that ESL189 falsely certified to
AmeriCorps that some of its members had performed the service hours necessary to qualify for an
education award, when in fact they had not.

Specifically,  the  United  States  contends  that  certain  individuals  on  staff  at  ESL189’s
AmeriCorps program directed members to falsely inflate their timesheets with “bonus hours” to help
them qualify for education awards they otherwise wouldn’t have earned. For example, on one
occasion, ESL189 staff instructed members to report 20 service hours on their timesheets just for
completing a 15-minute webinar. On another day, members were told that submitting an updated résumé
would count for 25 service hours. Members also received bonus hours for attending events, for
showing up on time, and in at least one instance for wearing orange.

“Encouraging AmeriCorps members to falsify their timesheets robbed the students of East St.  Louis
of  academic  help they  were  entitled to  receive,” said AmeriCorps  Inspector  General Deborah
Jeffrey. “We and our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of
Illinois will vigorously pursue any such frauds.”

“Instructing  young  volunteers  to  lie  on  their  timesheets  was  a  terrible  decision,”  U.S.
Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft said. “This settlement shines a light on that misconduct and should
serve as an example to other federal grantees in Southern Illinois. In these cases, it isn’t about
the money. It’s about ensuring the integrity of the program and, most importantly, making sure the
community actually receives these service hours.”
The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only; no charges were filed in court, and
there has been no determination of liability. ESL189 cooperated in the investigation, which began
with an anonymous tip in April 2018. The individuals responsible for the fraud are no longer
employed by the school district.

The investigation was conducted by the AmeriCorps Office of Inspector General. Assistant
U.S. Attorney Nathan D. Stump handled the matter for the United States.

Updated February 23, 2021