A Baton Rouge, La. man who took out more than 250 student loans, in part to fund an excessive casino gambling habit, has been convicted of 15 counts of wire fraud, financial aid fraud, and money laundering.
Federal prosecutors said Elliott Sterling used sham paperwork to enroll individuals in classes at Baton Rouge Community College (BRCC) and illegally obtained $1.4 million federal financial aid funds on their behalf. He “blew” $256,000 of the money at casinos in Louisiana, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, according to court documents.
But the 33-year-old, who represented himself, told the jury during final arguments he was being persecuted for “making money,” according to The Advocate, a Louisiana newspaper.
“Today is the day I truly believe justice will be served,” he added with a flourish.
The jury unanimously found him guilty on all 15 counts.
Earlier, jurors had heard that Sterling used fake diplomas and other bogus documents on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) claims for students who were neither qualified for the loans nor the BRCC courses they were enrolled on. Some of the “students” were incarcerated at the time of the application, prosecutors said.
Through his company, Sterling Educational Consulting, LLC, the defendant told some of the students that he could help them get financial aid that they would not need to repay. Typically, the students did not have access to their accounts with FAFSA and Sterling kept most of the loan for himself.
Most students who had come into contact with Sterling told federal investigators they were unaware they had applied for loans and were surprised to learn Sterling had signed notes promising they would repay the money. Prosecutors said Sterling would sometimes present himself as a student and paid others to impersonate students at BRCC.
The defendant was not helping people, he was helping himself,” prosecutor Elizabeth White told the jury. “The defendant exploited the students; he used them. He chose people that he could exploit.”
“Who is stuck with the bill?” asked her colleague, Rene Salomon. “The students that he manipulated, along with the taxpayers.”
Bogus COVID Loan
Sterling was also convicted of fraudulently obtaining a $90,000 COVID-19 support loan for Sterling Educational Consulting from the Small Business Administration. He was found to have falsified the company’s revenue figures on his application.
The FBI HAS recouped around $422,600 of the proceeds of the student loans scheme, which the jury ordered to be forfeited. Sterling is scheduled to be sentenced on July 7.
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