A former financial aid official at Columbia University’s Teacher College was arrested after authorities discovered that she had accepted bribery from students wanting more financial aid.
Melanie Williams-Bethea, who was the director of financial aid at the Teachers College until last May, was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, bribery and student aid fraud. She had accepted $350,000 worth of bribes illegally from three students in exchange for granting them hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of financial aid.
Williams-Bethea was also discovered to have vacationed with the one of the students in lavish settings, including in the Dominican Republic, Hawaii, New Orleans, and Anguilla, as well as aboard a cruise ship.
Although the former director was released on a $50,000 bail from prison after an appearance in a New York federal court, she faces charges of bribery, conspiracy and fraud. The students involved — Annice Kpana, Carmen Canty and Kyla Thomas — have also been arrested, according to NBC New York.
James Gardner, a spokesman for Teachers College — a graduate school for education that is affiliated with Columbia University — said that that the administration fired Williams-Bethea last spring after discovering the fraudulent activity during a normal review of financial aid awards, The Washington Post reported.
“We immediately launched an internal investigation, which identified improper actions by a single staff member,” Gardner said. “The college reported its findings to federal and state authorities, and has been working closely with federal investigators to uncover all the facts related to these improper actions.”
According to U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, the defendants reported greater financial burdens on their financial aid applications than those which they actually faced, allowing the students to receive greater amounts of financial aid than necessary.
“A substantial portion of this stolen money was allegedly kicked back to Williams-Bethea,” Berman said in the Post.
The U.S. Attorney added that student loan fraud like this instance ultimately affects all students and taxpayers with increased fees and interest rates.