The crime is almost ancient history and yet, two years after the fact, a scam that allowed non-students to steal $83,000 in federal grant money, just won't go away. "I don't think it's right; I think it's unfair to the kids that actually come to school every day and use the money wisely," student James McKeely told ABC7 News.
The Federal Pell grants award as much as $5,500 a year to qualifying low-income students. At Contra Costa, 7 of every 10 students apply. But in 2011, 22 of those recipients just took the money, never attended classes, and ran. "We had one case, the 78-year-old was signed up for Fundamentals of Basketball," Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Dodie Katague recalled.
Since last fall, Katague has been tracking those so-called students and prosecuting them. Seven more will go to court next week. The convicted ringleader, Yvette Hummel, has already served jail time and promised to pay back the $83,000.
"What she did is she set up a business advertising that she would register people for classes, get them financial aid, and all they had to do was give her 25 percent of each check that came in" Katgue explained.
All of the checks went to a home in Richmond, where Katague lived. Her roommate, named Tanya, described seeing stacks inches thick. "Even the postman said, 'That's a whole lot of money right there.' And I said, 'Absolutely.' None of those people lived here, that got checks here. None of them," she said.
"The whole process is rife with abuse and something needs to be done to reign in the waste," Katague says. By that, he means abuse nationwide. Contra Costa made the headline today, but with more than 5 million students receiving these grants, the abuse is a national problem.
"It makes me angry from the standpoint of this is taxpayer dollars that should go to people that are qualified to receive it. And people that are out there doing it in a fraudulent manner, yes, It's very upsetting," said Contra Costa College President Denise Noldon.
There was one thing that might have been a dead giveaway. None of the recipients were younger than 40-years-old.