Five individuals were sentenced yesterday for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Department of Education’s financial aid programs of over $12 million in federal funds.

According to court documents, from around August 2010 through May 2018, the defendants created and ran an elaborate sham university – the Columbus, Georgia, satellite campus of Apex School of Theology (Apex Columbus). Anderson, the former Director of Apex Columbus, enrolled hundreds of individuals who were not qualified and who had no desire to obtain a theological education to pose as students. The defendants and their co-conspirators then worked together to fraudulently complete financial aid applications in students’ names and to complete students’ homework and exams. After falsely ensuring that the sham students would receive federal financial aid, the defendants either stole student financial aid refund checks or required students to cash their aid checks and provide a portion to the co-conspirators. During the course of the conspiracy, the Department of Education issued approximately $12 million in fraudulently procured financial aid.

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Name, AgeResidenceSentence
Sandra Anderson, 63Hampton, Georgia108 months in prison Three years of supervised release
Yolanda Brown Thomas, 51Columbus, Georgia63 months in prison Three years of supervised release
Kristina Parker, 35Stone Mountain, GeorgiaFour years in prison Three years of supervised release
Erica Montgomery, 49Fort Mitchell, Alabama51 months in prison Three years of supervised release
Leo Frank Thomas, 56Phenix City, AlabamaThree years in prison Three years of supervised release

All five defendants were also ordered to pay, jointly and severally, $11,821,022 in restitution to the Department of Education.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary for the Middle District of Georgia; Special Agent in Charge Keri E. Farley of the FBI Atlanta Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Reginald J. France of the Department of Education Office of Inspector General (ED-OIG), Southeastern Regional Office; and Special Agent in Charge James E. Dorsey of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) made the announcement.