Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Four Plead Guilty to Making and Accepting Bribes

The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program is a Veterans Affairs (VA) program that provides disabled U.S. Military Veterans with education and employment-related services. VR&E program counselors advise veterans under their supervision which schools to attend and facilitate payments to those schools for veterans' tuition and necessary supplies. It is a significant program within the VA budget at about $1.8 billion per year.

Counselors are given wide latitude with apparently very little oversight on making recommendations to their clients for educational and career choices. One counselor, James King, figured out a way to get rich in the process. He demanded and accepted bribes from several "for-profit, non-accredited" schools (there's a red flag right there) in exchange for steering veterans to those schools. Of course, he called it a commission - a seven percent commission.

Mr. King plead guilty to bribery, fraud, and obstruction last October and is awaiting sentencing. Three others involved in the scheme - two owners and an employee of one of the schools - also plead guilty to their roles in the bribery schemes and yesterday, were each sentenced to 20 to 30 months in federal prison.

One of the "sham" schools, Atius, received $2.2 million from the VA's VR&E program and King received $155 thousand. Students complained about the poor quality of the education provided by Atius and even resisted attending. When the VA investigated the complaints, Atius falsified records to show that students had received 32 hours of class per week when in fact, had only received six hours per week.

One of the other defendants Michelle Stevens, heard about the VR&E program and set up her own "sham" school. King helped her out by facilitating the first payment and in return, demanded his seven percent commission. Later it was discovered that students resisted attending the school. In fact, the investigation disclosed that Stevens emailed an attendance sheet for eight students to the VA that included handwritten check marks purporting to represent the dates that the students attended class. In fact, as Stevens well knew, the students had not attended class on many of those dates nor was class even held on many of those dates.

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