A Louisiana man was convicted of defrauding the federal student loan system of more than $1.4 million in an elaborate scheme that involved posing as students and hiring impersonators to get financial aid he pocketed. Elliott Sterling of Baton Rouge obtained grants and loans intended for 180 students by using their personal information to fill out federal financial aid applications and enroll them in classes at Baton Rouge Community College from September 2017 to November 2019. Sterling, who was 32 when he was charged in 2020, took most of the financial aid money for himself and spent more than $253,000 of it at casinos in Louisiana, Nevada and Pennsylvania, the New York Times reports.
A jury convicted Sterling on 15 counts of wire fraud, financial aid fraud and money laundering. The FBI had seized about $422,600 of the proceeds, which the jury ordered be forfeited. Sterling, who does not have a law degree, represented himself in court week, saying he was innocent and claiming that he was being punished for “making money.” Kizzy Payton, a spokeswoman for the college, said that the fraudulent activity was first brought to the school’s attention after the FBI received an alert from BankMobile, a banking service the college uses to process financial aid. “We then partnered with the FBI and maintained our strong internal controls to help minimize the impact of the fraudulent activity and provided all the requested documents to support the investigation,” she said. Sterling approached potential students to enroll in 2017 and offered to help them for a fee. He also promised some of the students that they could get financial aid that they would not need to repay.