Dive school owner sentenced to 27 months in prison for wire fraud | USAO-NJ

CAMDEN, NJ — The president and CEO of a commercial diving school has been sentenced today to 27 months in prison for fraudulently obtaining funding from the United States Department of Education (DOE) and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the school and its students. announced US Attorney Philip R. Sellinger.

Tamara Brown, 58, of Haddon Heights, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty via videoconference to U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez for an information accusing her of one count of wire fraud. Judge Rodriguez delivered the sentence via video conference today.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

From January 2012 to July 2018, Brown owned a private for-profit commercial diving school, which offered educational programs in commercial diving and underwater welding and salvage. As a for-profit institution, the dive school had to be accredited by a recognized accrediting body in order to be eligible to receive tuition from the DOE’s Higher Education Act programs. The VA also relies on accreditation when evaluating the eligibility of experienced students to receive student grants. Since more than 80 percent of the diving school’s students received financial aid from the Department of Education, if it lost its accreditation, the school would lose its largest source of tuition funding for its students.

Before 2012, the diving school was quite accredited. However, upon renewing the dive school’s accreditation that year, Brown submitted fraudulent information to the accrediting body. For example, Brown reported employment rates of the school’s graduates to be between 81 and 84 percent, while the employment rate was closer to 50 to 60 percent, significantly lower than the rate required to maintain accreditation. Brown also provided fraudulent information regarding the holding of “advisory board” meetings necessary for accreditation to ensure that the school’s curriculum would train students to meet current industry and prospective employers’ requirements. In the school’s accreditation application, Brown reported that he had held advisory board meetings on several dates and also submitted the so-called minutes of nine such board meetings. The dive school had no formal advisory board and did not hold regular meetings as required. Brown submitted fully fabricated meeting minutes for at least six of the nine dates listed in the school’s accreditation application and therefore did not meet the minimum accreditation requirements. Nevertheless, the dive school continued to receive regular DOE funds through wire transfers, including one wire transfer that took place on January 18, 2017.

In addition to the jail term, Judge Rodriguez Brown sentenced her to three years of supervised release, fined her $50,000 and ordered return of $1.1 million.

US Attorney Sellinger credited agents of the FBI’s South Jersey Resident Agency, led by Special Agent Jacqueline Maguire in Philadelphia; the Philadelphia Resident Agency of the US Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Terry V. Harris, and the Northeast Field Office of the US Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Christopher F. Algieri, with the investigation leading to today’s conviction.

Students who can demonstrate that their school misled them or engaged in other misconduct that violates certain state laws may qualify for discharge of some or all of federal student loan debt under the program under certain circumstances. for loan forgiveness for loans. Former students of Divers Academy International who wish to apply for federal loan forgiveness can apply at www.studentaid.gov/borrower-defense/.

The government is represented by Assistant US Attorney Diana Vondra Carrig of the US Attorney’s Office in Camden.

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