New College Scandal as Financial Aid Director Convicted of Taking Kick Backs
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that MELANIE WILLIAMS-BETHEA, the former director of financial aid at Teachers College, Columbia University, and two former Teachers College students, MAWULI HORMEKU and CARMEN CANTY, were sentenced to prison terms for their respective roles in illicitly obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars from Teachers College through a years-long bribery and kickback scheme.
WILLIAMS-BETHEA was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan, who previously sentenced HORMEKU and CANTY.
WILLIAMS-BETHEA pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery on October 17, 2018; HORMEKU pled guilty to committing bribery on July 26, 2018; and CANTY pled guilty to committing bribery on July 31, 2018.
Two additional students who participated in the scheme, ANNICE KPANA and KYLA THOMAS, also have pled guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced later this month.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “These defendants exploited and stole from an institution of higher learning, taking money that was intended to help provide opportunities for individuals training to teach future generations.
“They cumulatively pocketed more than $2 million, and their prison sentences reflect the significant harm caused by their conduct.”
According to the Indictment, other filings in Manhattan federal court, and evidence presented in court at the sentencings:
From 2008 through 2017, the defendants engaged in bribery and kickback schemes resulting in the loss of more than $2 million from Teachers College.
WILLIAMS-BETHEA, who was employed by Teachers College as the director of financial aid during the relevant time period, perpetrated the scheme by approving aid payments to HORMEKU, CANTY, KPANA, and THOMAS (collectively, the “Students”) far in excess of their actual need, and then obtaining portions of the unjustified aid allotments she approved as kickback payments from the Students.
Specifically, WILLIAMS-BETHEA approved excessive “cost of attendance” figures for the Students that did not comport with their actual needs or costs of living, which had the effect of increasing the amount of financial aid they were eligible to receive, and by then approving stipends for the Students up to – and at times exceeding – these inflated amounts.
To facilitate some of the stipends, WILLIAMS-BETHEA created fraudulent stipend request forms for financial awards to the Students, which gave the appearance that professors or other administrators had requested stipends, when in fact they had not, and then approved the fraudulently requested stipends herself.
After WILLIAMS-BETHEA facilitated these awards of unjustified financial aid, HORMEKU, CANTY, KPANA, and THOMAS paid WILLIAMS-BETHEA nearly $1 million in kickbacks.
In addition to the prison terms, Judge Nathan ordered WILLIAMS-BETHEA, 49, to pay restitution and forfeiture in the amount of $2,067,349; ordered HORMEKU, 39, to pay restitution and forfeiture in the amount of $620,010; and ordered CANTY, 40, to pay restitution and forfeiture in the amount of $166,105.