Columbia University exec charged in financial aid kickback scheme

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Melanie Williams-Bethea, the former director of financial aid at Columbia's Teachers College, along with three students were arrested and hit with bribery, conspiracy, and wire fraud charges.


A former administrator at the Columbia University Teachers College and three students have been accused of running a financial aid kickback scheme that funneled more than $800,000 in stipends into their own pockets, according to law enforcement sources and a criminal complaint.

Melanie Williams-Bethea appeared in Manhattan federal court Thursday after authorities charged her with making over $350,000 illegally.

The issue was then traced back to Williams-Bethea. She and Ms. Kpana, for example, took a Caribbean cruise together in 2011 and also vacationed together in Hawaii, the Dominican Republic, New Orleans and Anguilla, the complaint said.

It wasn't immediately clear if the four women had attorneys who could comment on their behalfs.

The school, in a statement, said it acted last spring after irregularities were discovered in the disbursement of financial aid to several students. The school said it had reported its findings to federal and state authorities, and had been working closely with federal investigators "to uncover all the facts related to these improper actions".

"We take the matter of fraud and the misappropriation of College funds very seriously, and remain deeply distressed over the betrayal of trust in this matter", said James L. Gardner, associate vice president for development and external affairs at Teachers College, Columbia University.

The financial aid director was sacked last May.

Williams-Bethea approved wildly inflated "cost of attendance" numbers for the students - which are supposed to tally their tuition, books, living expenses and other costs.

It says the school fired her after discovering the alleged wrongdoing.

Kpana got $109,551 in financial aid in the 2009-2010 school year - double the $54,684 cost of attendance she was entitled to.

She kicked back almost $300,000 of the $600,000 in stipends she received between 2011 and 2017 to Williams-Bethea, according to the charges. The kickback checks often came within days of the stipend payments and included notes like "Love" or "Thank you!"