Two plead guilty to wrongdoing in connection to federal E-rate schools program
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A former non-profit executive director and a former director of the Diocese of Columbus Office of Catholic Schools have pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to the federal E-Rate Program.
Shawn Clemmons, 56, of Piketon, pleaded guilty today to submitting false claims to the federal government. Kenneth Collura, 65, of Pickerington, pleaded guilty on July 1, 2019, to making false statements.
The Schools and Libraries Program (commonly referred to as the “E-Rate Program”) is a government program established by Congress and implemented and overseen by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that provides funds to, among others, economically disadvantaged schools and libraries.
Under the E-Rate Program, the government provides up to 90% funding to qualified schools to purchase eligible technology products and services for their students. Schools are required to pay the remaining amount. Federal law restricts how the funds must be used, and E-Rate funding can only be used for eligible equipment or services.
Clemmons was the executive director for the South Central Ohio Computer Association (SCOCA), an E-Rate Program service provider that provided internet and wireless access, and other services, to public and private schools. SCOCA was a council of governments under Ohio law, meaning it acted as an areawide agency for providing technology services to multiple Ohio public schools. At SCOCA, Clemmons was responsible for billing schools and the E-Rate Program and for performing SCOCA’s E-Rate Program certifications. Beginning in approximately 2004, SCOCA received funds from the E-Rate Program, some of which were pass-through reimbursements owed to its client schools. Federal law required SCOCA to provide these pass-through reimbursements to schools within 20 business days of receipt.
According to court documents, Clemmons unlawfully withheld reimbursements to schools. He would pay schools reimbursements one to two years later than was required, and would use the funds from one funding year to reimburse what was owed for previous funding years.
In one E-Rate Funding Year, Clemmons did not pay the reimbursements at all. He failed to reimburse public schools more than $2 million. To date, the schools have not received the E-Rate reimbursements. The schools were also obligated to pay additional fees to cover other outstanding debts of SCOCA, which totaled more than $1.2 million. The amount of lost reimbursements plus the amount the schools paid in additional fees totaled $3,230,974.40.
During this time, Clemmons made false claims on FCC forms, including false certifications that SCOCA was in compliance with the rules and orders governing the E-Rate Program.
In a related case, Collura pleaded guilty to making false statements in connection with the E-Rate Program. In 2014, the Diocese of Columbus Office of Catholic Schools entered a new five-year contract with its service provider, SCOCA, for internet access, which was an E-Rate-eligible service. The charges under the contract between the Diocese of Columbus Schools and SCOCA were inflated, in that they included undisclosed expenses that were not eligible for E-Rate funding.
Collura served as the Director of Communication and Instructional Technology for the Office of Catholic Schools, an arm of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus’s Department for Education, from 1994 until July 2014.
Collura negotiated the SCOCA contract knowing the fees were inflated and included funding for expenses that were not eligible for E-Rate funding. In documents he transmitted to the government, though, Collura falsely certified that he and the Diocese of Columbus Office of Catholic Schools had disclosed all ineligible services that were covered by the contract and that the contract covered no ineligible services. Over the course of the five-year contract, more than $700,000 was for undisclosed purposes. Most of these funds were not transferred from the service provider to the Diocese of Columbus Schools, however, because SCOCA became insolvent.
Submitting a false claim and making a false statement are each federal crimes punishable by up to five years in prison.
Congress sets the maximum statutory sentence. Sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the Court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
David M. DeVillers, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; Joseph M. Deters, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cincinnati Division; David Hunt, FCC Inspector General; Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber and Sandra Bruce, Deputy Inspector General Delegated the Duties of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, announced the plea entered into today before U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson. Assistant United States Attorneys Peter K. Glenn-Applegate and Jessica W. Knight are representing the United States in this case.
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