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Catch of the Week — VA Official Pleads Guilty to Bribery, Fraud, and Obstruction in $2 Million Scheme

Posted  October 26, 2018

A former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs official, James King of Baltimore, Maryland, pleaded guilty to demanding and receiving bribes from three for-profit schools in exchange for enrolling disabled military veterans in those schools. King facilitated over $2 million in improper payments from the VA using the veterans’ federal benefits. He pleaded guilty to one count of honest services and money/property wire fraud, one count of bribery, and one count of falsifying records to obstruct an administrative investigation.

According to King’s admissions made in connection with his plea, the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) department provides disabled U.S. military veterans with education and employment-related services. VR&E program counselors advise veterans under their supervision which schools to attend and facilitate payments to those schools for veterans’ tuition and necessary supplies. King abused his position a counselor to enrich himself, admitting that from 2015 through 2017, he demanded and received cash bribes from three schools: Atius Technology Institute, Eelon Training Academy, and School A. King facilitated over $2 million in payments to Atius, over $83,000 to Eelon, and over $340,000 to School A, all in furtherance of King’s separate agreements with the respective school owners to commit bribery and defraud the VA.

In order to maximize the profits from their fraud, all three school owners sent King and other VA officials false information about the education being provided to veterans, and King facilitated payments to all three schools knowing this information was false. King also admitted to repeatedly lying to veterans under his supervision in order to convince them to attend Atius, Eelon, or School A. For example, King falsely instructed one veteran that, unless he attended School A, his VR&E program benefits would “lapse.” King insisted that this veteran enroll in School A despite the veteran’s protests that he could not engage in physical security work due to a physical disability, and despite the fact that the veteran had enrolled in the VR&E program to pursue his dream of becoming a baker.

In early 2017, the VA initiated a fact-finding inquiry into Atius based on complaints by students as to the quality of education at the school. In August 2017, after King became aware of the inquiry, he created a falsified site visit report in an effort to obstruct the VA’s inquiry into Atius and attempted to convince a co-conspirator to lie to a grand jury about the purpose of the bribe payments.

Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski said that King “defrauded an important VA program that provides education services to military veterans who served our country. The Justice Department is committed to prosecuting those who seek to illegally enrich themselves at the expense of programs intended to help our brave servicemembers.” U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu, for the District of Columbia, added that  King “took advantage of his position with the VA by participating in a scam that took money from programs meant to help our disabled military veterans find jobs and enhance their education. This investigation shows that we will do everything we can to ensure that taxpayer money intended for our veterans is put to its proper use, not siphoned off by the people and organizations who are entrusted with helping them.” DOJ

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Tagged in: Bribery and Bid-Rigging, Catch of the Week, Education Fraud,