A few days ago, Elliott Sterling of Baton Rouge was convicted of massive student-loan fraud. As reported in the Baton Rouge Advocate, Sterling stole $1.4 million in student loan money by pretending to be a Baton Rouge Community College student 180 times.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that the Sterling falsified student-loan applications for 168 people. In furtherance of his scheme, he bought 42 fake high school transcripts, paid people to represent themselves as students, and filed false information on student-aid applications.
Sterling's criminal scheme went on for two years. FBI agents seized $422,000 in fraud proceeds, but Sterling blew a great deal of money at gambling casinos.
Apparently, numerous people helped Sterling bilk the federal government. He collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in student-loan money intended for other people and kept two-thirds of the proceeds. He even enlisted the help of a couple of people in prison.
Sterling's convictions raise several questions. First, did any of the bogus students at BRCC attend classes? Did they receive grades? How long did it take BRCC to realize that someone was using the college to scam the federal student-loan program?
Of course, all the people who took out student loans as part of Sterling's scheme are indebted to the Department of Education and required to pay back the money they were awarded. How many of these "students" will pay back their loans? My guess is that none of them will.
College leaders and the U.S. Department of Education would like Americans to believe that the federal student loan program is competently administered and that federal loan money helps students get a valuable college education.
In fact, the student loan program is riddled with fraud and mismanagement. Several for-profit colleges have been accused of misrepresenting their programs; some individuals take out loans just to capture the income with no intention of studying for a college degree. Hundreds of colleges have rolled out dodgy graduate programs to enhance their revenues, leaving students with worthless MBAs and professional diplomas.
Today, 45 million Americans collectively owe $1.8 trillion in student debt. Parents have impoverished themselves by taking out Parent PLUS loans to help their offspring pay their college bills. Private lenders have loaned another $150 billion to students at high-interest rates.
It is time for Americans to admit that higher education in this country is a racket. Congress doesn't have the courage to legislate reforms. But surely, our federal legislators can summon the political will to amend the Bankruptcy Code to allow the victims of this massive fraud scheme to discharge their student loans through bankruptcy.
|Baton Rouge Community College: A crime scene|