He took out $1.4 million in bogus student loans and spent $235,000 in casinos, prosecutors say | Courts

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A Baton Rouge man used fake high school diplomas and transcripts, impersonators and even inmates in an elaborate two-year scheme to enrich himself by defrauding the $1.4 million federal student loan system.

A 2020 federal grand jury indictment accused Elliott Sterling of filing false documents to enroll people at Baton Rouge Community College by misrepresenting educational records, income and number of dependents on applications for ready.

Prosecutor Rene Salomon told a federal district court jury on Wednesday that Sterling – whom he described as a “fraudster” – pretended to be a student 180 times and forged the college credentials of 168 students.

Some 150 students listed their mother’s maiden name “Sterling” in response to a security question on federal student loan applications, the prosecutor noted. Sterling also purchased 42 fake high school transcripts for $5,000, he said.

That jury quickly and unanimously convicted Sterling on all 15 counts he faced.

The panel also ordered the forfeiture of more than $422,000 in fraud proceeds that the FBI seized from Sterling in the form of a $130,000 cashier’s check and more than $292,000 from credit union accounts. to his name.

An FBI agent said on Wednesday that the rest of the money Sterling fraudulently obtained from the US Department of Education and the Small Business Administration between September 2017 and November 2019 is missing.

Solomon told the jury that Sterling “blew up” $253,000 in casinos across the country.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson ordered a pre-sentence hearing and scheduled Sterling’s sentencing for July 7. He remains free.

Sterling, who doesn’t have a law degree but represented himself during the trial, insisted loud and clear during his closing argument before the jury on Wednesday that “you’re not looking at a criminal.” He said his company, Sterling Educational Consulting, “was never to make me rich.”

But Solomon and fellow prosecutor Elizabeth White maintained that was precisely what Sterling did, with the former saying he did it by “lying, cheating and stealing”.

When asked for documents by the BRCC, Sterling helped the students provide false information, according to his indictment. Sterling occasionally posed as a student or paid others to pose as BRCC students, prosecutors said.

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Sterling also hid his role as a preparer of student loan applications, Solomon said.

Salomon argued that Sterling “hijacked the process” and “exploited every one” of its clients.

Part of the financial assistance – thousands of dollars – was in the names of two inmates, the prosecutor said.

“Who is on the phone talking to these inmates? That man ! he said, pointing to Sterling.

Salomon said Sterling kept 66% of the money he got for the students.

“The crux of the matter is Sterling’s greed,” he said.

Sterling, who claimed his innocence and said he did not ‘hustle’ his clients but was being punished for ‘making money’, told the jury that ‘today is the day where I truly believe justice will be served.”

It took just over an hour for the panel to find him guilty on all 15 counts of wire fraud, financial aid fraud and money laundering.

“The defendant was not helping people, he was helping himself,” White told the jury during the government’s rebuttal. “The defendant exploited the students, he used them. He chose people he could exploit.”

Prosecutors said Sterling would give the students some of the money he secured for them, but did not tell them it had to be repaid.

“Who’s stuck with the bill?” Solomon asked the jury. “The students he manipulated, as well as the taxpayers.”

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