SAN PABLO (AP) — Several people face criminal charges in connection with a financial aid scam at a community college in Northern California, prosecutors said.
Those involved in the alleged fraud received federal money to attend Contra Costa College in San Pablo and received passing grades in drama classes they never attended, according to the Contra Costa Times (http://bit.ly/XGh8wE).
Contra Costa County prosecutor Dodie Katague told the newspaper that the scheme known as "Pell runner" was discovered after one of the phony students came forward to the authorities.
"I'm sure there are other people who are doing this that are getting away with it," Katague said. "The scam is easy to commit: you just have to lie on your application that you are broke, get a check and after you get a check you withdraw from the classes. It's very hard to catch because the record-keeping is lax."
Prosecutors say the scam was conceived by Yvette Hummel and her boyfriend, David Murphy, in 2011. The Richmond couple helped enroll nearly two-dozen people at the college as students, helped them apply for financial aid and then took a 25 percent cut of the money.
Investigators, including the FBI and the Department of Education, realized all 22 people involved were sharing the same two addresses belonging to Hummel.
Contra Costa Community College District spokesman Tim Leong said all the alleged students on paper appeared to be eligible for financial aid, and so were sent checks. During an internal investigation, the alleged students said they didn't attend any classes, Leong said.
Hummel and Murphy, the ringleaders, and two other suspects have already taken plea deals that include jail time, the newspaper said. Hummel also must pay nearly $84,000 in restitution.
At least eight suspects remain at large, authorities said.