CAMDEN, NJ — The president and CEO of a commercial diving school today admitted to 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, acting US attorney Rachael A. announced Honig.
Tamara Brown, 57, of Haddon Heights, New Jersey, pleaded guilty via videoconference to U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez for an information accusing her of one count of wire fraud.
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 welding and underwater 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 diving 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 held advisory board meetings on several dates and also submitted what were the minutes of nine such board meetings. The dive school had no formal advisory board and did not hold regular meetings as required. Brown submitted completely 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.
The fraud charge for which Brown pleaded guilty contains a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross profit or loss from the crime. Under the terms of the plea deal, Brown must repay $1.1 million. The verdict is scheduled for August 30, 2021.
Acting U.S. Attorney Honig has credited agents of the FBI’s South Jersey Resident Agency, headed by Special Agent Michael J. Driscoll in Philadelphia, the U.S. Department of Education’s Philadelphia Resident Agency, Office of Inspector General, headed by Special Authorization Agent Terry V. Harris, and the Northeast Field Office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General, led by Special Agent Christopher F. Algieri, with the investigation leading to today’s conviction.
The government is represented by Assistant US Attorney Diana Vondra Carrig of the US Attorney’s Office in Camden.