Three Individuals Charged In Manhattan Federal Court With Participating In Student Financial Aid Fraud Scheme To Lower Student Loan Default Rate Of For-Profit School
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Brian M. Hickey, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Northeastern Regional Office (“ED-OIG”), announced charges today against three individuals for their participation in a scheme to fraudulently lower the student loan default rate of the for-profit school in whose Loan Management Department they were employed during the scheme. Defendants DIANNA SALAZAR, ALEKSANDRA CHOLEWICKA, and SHAYNA POLITE are charged with conspiracy to commit federal student financial aid fraud and make false statements, attempted federal student financial aid fraud, making false statements, and wire fraud. All of the defendants surrendered to law enforcement today and were presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck in Manhattan federal court this afternoon.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Student financial aid fraud depletes federal funds meant to fuel the dreams of an affordable higher education for countless Americans. The defendants charged today are alleged to have lied to lower their for-profit school’s student loan default rate in order to receive more such financial aid.”
ED-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Brian Hickey said: “Federal student aid exists so that individuals can make their dream of a higher education a reality, it’s not a slush fund for unscrupulous school officials. As the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Education, we are committed to fighting student aid fraud and ensuring that those who steal student aid or game the system for their own selfish purposes are stopped and held accountable for their criminal actions.”
According to the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
Each of the defendants was associated with a for-profit educational institution (the “For-Profit School”) that was located in New York, New York during the scheme and specializes in preparing students for employment in a technical career after graduation. DIANNA SALAZAR was the manager of the School’s Loan Management Department. ALEKSANDRA CHOLEWICKA and SHAYNA POLITE worked as loan advisors in the Loan Management Department.
The named defendants are charged with preparing and submitting fraudulent applications for deferment or forbearance of student loans administered by the United States Department of Education (“ED”) in order to fraudulently lower the student loan default rate of the For-Profit School so that it would continue to be eligible to receive federal student aid.
The ED administers and provides loans to eligible students and families to help cover the cost of higher education through Title IV Federal Student Assistance Programs authorized by the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended. If a school’s student loan default rate, which is a measurement of the percentage of students who entered repayment on their loans and defaulted within a specific period, is 30 percent or higher in three consecutive years, the school loses its eligibility to receive certain federal student aid for its students. A student that has entered repayment on his or her loan and has been granted a deferment or forbearance is relieved of making loan payments for a specified time period and is not considered in default.
The defendants submitted fraudulent deferment and forbearance applications to the ED and other loan holders in two ways. First, the defendants manually altered dates on previously submitted deferment and forbearance applications using liquid paper and resubmitted the applications in order to extend the deferment or forbearance period. Second, the defendants copied authentic student signatures from old deferment and forbearance documents and manually cut and pasted those signatures on new deferment and forbearance applications that were submitted with current dates. By falsifying dates and forging student signatures, the defendants misrepresented to the ED and other loan holders that the For-Profit School’s students were eligible for a deferment or forbearance and that the student had certified that the information provided in the forms was true and correct.
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Attached are charts containing the charges against the defendants and the maximum penalties they face, as well as the defendants’ ages and residences. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of ED-OIG.
This case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Sagar K. Ravi is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
 As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint, and the description of the Complaint set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.