CLEVELAND — A Euclid woman was sentenced Wednesday to more than nine years in prison for a scheme in which she fraudulently enrolled students into Ohio community colleges — including Lorain County Community College — to defraud the U.S. Department of Education out of $1.8 million.
Basheera Perry, 45, was sentenced to 114 months in prison and ordered to pay nearly $1.9 million in restitution. She previously pleaded guilty to numerous charges, including conspiracy, wire and mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.
“These programs were designed to help make college more affordable to people who want an education, but this defendant used them to enrich herself,” U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman said. “She was a one-stop shop for fraud.”
LCCC cooperated with federal authorities when the probe began several years ago, said Tracy Green, vice president for strategic and institutional development and a college spokeswoman.
“While we in the past (several years) ago provided info to the inspector, we were not intimately involved in any legal case,” she said Wednesday. “We have received very clean audits from Department of Education in terms of our financial aid processing over the years, so this isn’t a reflection on us or the other institutions involved.”
According to court documents, Perry conspired with others between 2009 and 2017 to defraud the U.S. Department of Education. Perry would use the fraudulent students’ names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers to enroll them in community colleges, including LCCC, Lakeland Community College, Owens Community College and others.
She then applied for financial aid on behalf of the students in the form of loans, Pell Grants and other grants. Many of the “students” participated in the scheme for money and did not have any intention of going to school or using the financial aid for school-related purposes. Also, many did not have a high school diploma or GED, making them ineligible to receive the financial aid.
Perry, her recruiters and the fraudulent students split the proceeds of the financial aid. The Department of Education sent the money to the colleges, which in turn would send the excess financial aid to the “students” via check or debit cards to addresses controlled by Perry.
Perry charged the students fees to complete their academic coursework — $1,000 for two courses, $1,500 for three courses and $2,000 for four courses. She also charged $500 to make counterfeit GED certificates or high school diploma transcripts.
She also created other false documents, such as death certificates, medical records and police reports, for use in academic appeals if the “students” received notification of lack of satisfactory academic progress needed to receive financial aid.
LCCC has since “instituted best practices to help guard against fraud as recommended by DOE to all higher education institutions,” Green said.
Included in the college’s new policies are a two-disbursement policy for student loans, based on participation in online and in-person classes; drop for non-attendance or non-participation; a technology solution called “On Plan” to identify at registration courses students are enrolled in that don’t align with their declared degree program so student financial aid is not handed out until an audit occurs.
At LCCC, a valid photo ID and documentation verifying students’ identities also now is required in order to pick up financial aid disbursement or refund checks, Green said.