Mother and Daughter Charged in Elaborate $1.8M Federal Student Aid Scheme

A mother and daughter in the Euclid, Ohio area are facing federal charges of scamming the U.S. Department of Education out of more than $1.8 million via a fraudulent student aid scheme.

Elizabeth Westmoreland, 69, and her daughter, Basheera Perry, 45, are facing charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, and theft of government property, reports Cleveland.com.

Perry, who is charged with defrauding the federal education department out of more than $1.8 million, is also charged with swindling the Department of Housing and Urban Development out of tens of thousands of dollars.

Westmoreland is alleged to have taken more than $178,000 from the education department and to have conned the Social Security Administration as well.

According to the news report of the court filings, both women used the personal identification information of recruits to apply for admission into area community colleges. They also used their recruits’ identifications to apply for federal student aid, claiming the individuals named on the forms were regular students.

In addition, authorities say the women schemed to have themselves and their recruits appear as regular online college students. In doing this, the federal education department sent student aid to the community colleges to pay their tuition and forwarded any additional funds to both women in the form of debit cards or checks.

When the individuals identified as students were notified that they were no longer eligible for student aid because of incomplete classwork, Perry and her recruits reportedly generated fraudulent death certificates, medical, and police records in appealing those cases.

Both women have an extensive history of convictions for fraud and other crimes. Since 1974, Westmoreland has been involved in 25 cases in Cuyahoga County. Perry has had 11 cases since 1993.

Others who have recently been charged with defrauding the U.S. Education Department include high-ranking employees of a Chicago-based vocational institute known as Center for Employment Training (CET).

Marie Pickett, 59, and Janie Blakeney, 63 – the campus director and admissions officer, respectively, of CET – and the school’s financial aid officers, Deborah Williams, 58, and Jenny Morales, 36, along with two medical assistance instructors – Heather Smith, 43, and Tamaura Balark, 45 – were all charged in federal court in March with conspiracy after scamming the federal education department out of millions in financial aid over an eight-year period that ended in 2013.

WTTW reported on the elaborate schemes of the defendants:

Pickett, Blakeney, Williams and Morales worked to create “fake students” using the social security numbers and government-issued IDs of students who had never enrolled at CET, according to a 16-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

They allegedly forged high school diplomas and other documents purportedly belonging to students who had never graduated high school, then placed those into CET’s school records. Pickett, Smith and Balark would then falsify attendance records – including for one student who had passed away – making it appear as though they were showing up to class, the complaint states.

The group would then create fake exams they said were completed by these “students” and used these to apply for Title IV financial aid, according to the complaint.

The Chicago CET campus has closed since the charges were filed. The defendants face up to 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts of wire fraud and financial assistance fraud.

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