CAMDEN, N.J. – The president and CEO of a commercial diving school today admitted fraudulently obtaining funding from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the school and its students, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig announced.
Tamara Brown, 57, of Haddon Heights, New Jersey, pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez to an information charging her with one count of wire fraud.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
From January 2012 through 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 diving school was required to be accredited through an approved accreditation body to be eligible to receive tuition funds from the DOE’s Higher Education Act’s programs. The VA also relies upon the accreditation in evaluating the eligibility of veteran students to receive student aid funding. Given that more than 80 percent of the diving school’s students received financial assistance from the Department of Education, the school stood to lose its largest source of tuition funding for its students if it lost its accreditation.
Prior to 2012, the diving school had been properly accredited. However, when renewing the diving school’s accreditation that year, Brown submitted fraudulent information to the accrediting authority. For example, Brown reported rates of employment of the school’s graduates of between 81 to 84 percent, when the employment rates were closer to 50 to 60 percent, significantly lower than the rate required to maintain accreditation. Brown also provided fraudulent information pertaining to the school’s holding of “advisory board” meetings required for accreditation to ensure that the school’s curriculum would educate students to meet the current demands of the industry and prospective employers. In the school’s accreditation application, Brown reported holding advisory board meetings on various dates and also submitted what purported to be minutes of nine such board meetings. The diving school did not have a formal advisory board and did not regularly conduct meetings as required. Brown submitted wholly fabricated meeting minutes for at least six of the nine dates listed in the school’s accreditation application and, therefore, did not satisfy the minimum accreditation requirements. The diving school nonetheless continued to regularly receive DOE funds via wire transfers, including a wire transfer which occurred on Jan. 18, 2017.
The wire fraud charge to which Brown pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Brown must pay restitution of $1.1 million. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 30, 2021.
Acting U.S. Attorney Honig credited agents of the FBI’s South Jersey Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Driscoll in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Resident Agency of the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Vondra Carrig of the U.S Attorney’s Office in Camden.
USAO - New Jersey;
Department of Education OIG