$12 Million Student Aid Scam Results in Conspiracy, Fraud Charges
Six officials at the Apex School of Theology orchestrated a scam to fraudulently claim $12 million in federal student aid, according to an official indictment filed last month. The scheme involved recruiting fake students, fabricating fake applications for financial aid, as well as plagiarizing schoolwork and credentials.
The Apex School of Theology, which has its main campus in Durham, North Carolina, opened a satellite center in Columbus, Georgia. The six alleged conspirators had varying positions in the Columbus satellite and used them to get federal student aid for fake students.
Director Sandra Anderson and instructors Leo Frank Thomas, Yolanda Thomas, and Dorothy Webb were indicted along with two who recruited for the group, Kristina Parker, an administrative assistant, and Erica Montgomery who owned a tax preparation company.
How the Scheme Was Orchestrated
The six defendants allegedly ran a scheme under the guise of operating the off-site Columbus branch of Apex. In the indictment, Montgomery promised “free money” without having to do any actual school work.
The recruits posed as students but did not need to attend class. They only needed to enroll and apply for Federal Student Aid. Instructors fabricated tests and students’ written assignments, even fabricating gradual improvement in their work.
The defendants provided all documents, including fake GEDs. They even composed “spiritual journeys” for the fake students which were supposed to be an autobiography of their development in the institution.
Since the Columbus satellite director (Anderson) and administration (Parker) were supposedly part of the team, many of the applications for federal student aid were approved. The “students” then split their aid with the defendants, who used the funds for personal gain.
The scam went on from 2011 to 2018, when the Apex Columbus campus was closed due to a cheating scandal. A post on the school’s website announced they had officially closed on June 1, 2018 because of “significant problems with academic integrity.”
Apex School of Theology’s website no longer has any posted content and the school has been branded a “school to avoid” by Seminary Advisory. The site issued a “red flag” on Apex when it was discovered the school had waived requirements for a high school diploma or GED for students.
Other red flags included a lack of information concerning faculty credentials and school financial aid packages. Apex offered loans to more than 90 percent of students as well as need-based scholarships.
Effect on Federal Student Aid
Agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service joined in the investigation and recommended the charges to the federal government. The defendants were indicted on one count of conspiracy and five counts each of mail fraud and financial aid fraud. Anderson and Montgomery were also charged with money laundering.
FBI special agent Chris Hacker called the conspiracy a “blatant abuse of a federally funded program” and “an insult to all taxpayers.” He reflected that “all citizens lose” since real students who work hard to earn financial aid may be denied because of the alleged fraud.