the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Haddon Heights NJ, the president and CEO of a commercial diving school was sentenced today to 27 months in prison for 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, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced.
Tamara Brown, 58, of Haddon Heights, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty by videoconference before U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez to an information charging her with one count of wire fraud. Judge Rodriguez imposed the sentence today by videoconference.
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.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Rodriguez sentenced Brown to three years of supervised release, fined her $50,000 and ordered restitution of $1.1 million.
U.S. Attorney Sellinger credited agents of the FBI’s South Jersey Resident Agency, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jacqueline Maguire 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 sentencing.
Students who can show that their school misled them or engaged in other misconduct in violation of certain state laws may be eligible for the discharge of some or all federal student loan debt under certain circumstances pursuant to the Borrower Defense Loan Discharge program. Former students of Divers Academy International who wish to seek federal loan forgiveness may apply at www.studentaid.gov/borrower-defense/.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Diana Vondra Carrig of the U.S Attorney’s Office in Camden.