5 sentenced to prison over Georgia theology school fraud

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Five people who pleaded guilty to defrauding $12 million in federal student aid by enrolling students into a theology school without requiring classwork were sentenced Thursday in Georgia to prison terms ranging from three to nine years.

The defendants admitted they recruited fake students to the Columbus, Georgia, campus of Apex School of Theology. The students were promised they would not have to do any work. The employees took all or part of the money from federal grants and loans.

The defendants then faked applications, grades, course work and even the students’ spiritual autobiographies meant to reflect a student’s spiritual journey. Prosecutors said employees took tests and logged on to the school’s course management system to make it appear the students were real.

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The Ledger-Enquirer of Columbus reports that of 602 students enrolled in the branch from August 2010 to May 2018, testimony showed 241 were involved in the fraud.

Apex was headquartered in Durham, North Carolina, with 20 satellite campuses. The U.S. Department of Education stopped providing financial aid to the school’s students as it investigated Apex. The school sued, but has since shut down.

U.S. District Judge Clay Land sentenced Sandra Anderson of Hampton, Georgia, the 64-year-old who directed the Columbus campus, to nine years in prison.

Instructor Yolanda Brown Thomas, 51, of Columbus, was sentenced to five years and three months.


Fort Mitchell, Alabama, resident Erica Montgomery, 49 who used a tax preparation business to recruit students, was sentenced to four years and three months.

Administrative assistant Kristina Parker, 35, of Stone Mountain, Georgia, was sentenced to four years in prison.

Instructor Leo Frank Thomas, 56, of Phenix City, Alabama, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Montgomery and Thomas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The other three pleaded guilty to conspiracy, five counts of wire fraud and four counts of financial aid fraud.

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A sixth person who had been indicted — Dorothy Webb — died while charges were pending.

Although defense attorneys argued the loss amount was lower, Land ordered the defendants to pay $11.8 million in restitution.