Those involved in the alleged fraud received tens of thousands in federal money to attend Contra Costa College in San Pablo and received passing grades in drama classes they never attended, according to the Contra Costa Times (http://bit.ly/XGh8wE).
Contra Costa County prosecutor Dodie Katague told the newspaper that the scheme known as "Pell runner" was discovered after one of the phony students came forward to the authorities.
"I'm sure there are other people who are doing this that are getting away with it," Katague said. "The scam is easy to commit: you just have to lie on your application that you are broke, get a check and after you get a check you withdraw from the classes. It's very hard to catch because the record-keeping is lax."
Prosecutors say the scam was conceived by Yvette Hummel and her boyfriend, David Murphy, in 2011. The Richmond couple helped enroll nearly two-dozen people at the college as students, helped them apply for financial aid and then took a 25 percent cut of the money.
Investigators, including the FBI and the Department of Education, realized all 22 people involved were sharing the same two addresses belonging to Hummel.
Contra Costa Community College District spokesman Tim Leong said all the alleged students on paper appeared to be eligible for financial aid, and so were sent checks. During an internal investigation, the alleged students said they didn't attend any classes, Leong said.
Hummel, who was charged with multiple felonies and conspiracy, was sentenced to 180 days in county jail and five years' probation after pleading guilty in December to one count of felony grand theft, Katague told The Associated Press on Friday.
Hummel must also pay nearly $84,000 in restitution, Katague said.
Murphy also pleaded guilty to similar charges and received a 90-day jail sentence and was ordered to pay $5,550 in restitution.
Four other suspects have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor grand theft and each received one year of probation. An additional eight suspects are due in court next week to either set a preliminary hearing date or accept a plea deal, Katague said.
At least eight suspects remain at large, Katague added.
Information from: Contra Costa Times, http://www.contracostatimes.com