CHICAGO —(ENEWSPF)—March 2, 2018
By: Rosemary Piser
The Department of Justice (DoD) announced today that six former employees of a non-profit Chicago post-secondary education institute schemed to enroll fake students in classes as part of a conspiracy to swindle federal financial aid programs out of millions of dollars.
The six defendants were employed at the Chicago campus of the Center for Employment Training, a California-based institution of post-secondary, non-degree, vocational and technical education with campuses throughout the country. According to the indictment, from 2005 to 2013, it is alleged that the defendants applied for and obtained federal grants and loans for students who were ineligible to receive the funds. One of the purported students was marked present at CET classes even though the student was deceased at the time, the indictment states.
The indictment charges the defendants with one count of conspiracy to fraudulently obtain federal financial assistance, one count of fraudulently obtaining federal financial assistance, and three counts of wire fraud. The defendants are:
- Marie Pickett, 59, of Chicago;
- Janie Blakeney, 63, of Chicago;
- Deborah Williams, 58, of Chicago;
- Jenny Morales, 36, of Cicero;
- Heather Smith, 43, of Cicero; and
- Tamaura Balark, 45, of Chicago.
Arraignments in federal court in Chicago have not yet been scheduled.
According to the charges, Pickett served as the Director of CET’s Chicago campus; Blakeney was the Admissions Advisor; Williams and Morales were Financial Aid Officers; and Smith and Balark were instructors in the Medical Assistance Program.
As part of the conspiracy, it is alleged that some of the defendants created and furnished to the Department of Education phony Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications on behalf of purported students who were not eligible to receive financial aid because they had not graduated from high school or received an equivalency certificate. For one purported student, the conspirators created a fake diploma that fraudulently alleged the student had graduated from a Chicago public high school. The fictitious diploma was then placed in the student’s CET file in an effort to meet the Department of Education’s requirements for financial aid.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Each count of wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the financial assistance fraud counts carry a maximum sentence of five years. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.