COLUMBUS, Ga. — Three Georgia women pleaded guilty Thursday in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Education’s federal financial aid programs.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Sandra Anderson, 63, of Palmetto; Yolanda Thomas, 51, of Columbus and Kristina Parker, 35, of Stone Mountain, pleaded guilty in the elaborate scheme involving a sham university. Leo Thomas, 56, of Phoenix City, Alabama, also pleaded guilty in the case.
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Prosecutors said the group a sham university, the Columbus, Georgia, satellite campus of the Apex School of Theology.
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Apex, which has since been shut down, was a private for-profit school that offered programs in theology, Christian education, divinity and more.
The co-conspirators admitted that they enrolled people who were not eligible to attend college to pose as students at Apex, then fraudulently completed financial aid applications in the fake students’ names and did the student’s homework and exams. They also served as teachers and manipulated grade requirements to continue to qualify for federal financial aid.
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They then either stole student financial aid refund checks outright or required students to cash their aid checks and provide a portion to the co-conspirators, prosecutors said.
The scheme was led by Anderson, according to the DOJ.
Anderson, Yolanda Thomas and Parker each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, five counts of wire fraud and four counts of financial aid fraud. They each face up to 20 years in prison on each of the conspiracy and wire fraud charges and five years each in prison on each of the financial aid fraud charges. .
Leo Thomas pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
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