A shuttered for-profit college chain — which used exotic dancers to recruit students — and its owner, who bilked the government out of millions of dollars in a federal student aid funding scheme, must pay the government more than $20 million in damages and penalties, a district court ruled.
U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke handed down the ruling Feb. 15 after determining that Miami-based FastTrain College and its president and owner, Alejandro Amor, “defrauded the U.S. Department of Education by submitting falsified documents to obtain federal student aid funds in connection with ineligible students,” Wifred Ferrer, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a release Tuesday.
“The student victims in this case were especially vulnerable,” Cooke’s ruling said. “They were young people who, for whatever reasons, had not graduated high school. Realizing there are few jobs one can obtain without a high-school diploma or equivalent degree, they turned to FastTrain, hoping to learn marketable skills to improve their chances of making a decent living.”
The FastTrain empire, which grew to seven campuses across the state, including ones in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, came under suspicion after the FBI raided multiple campuses in May 2012. The campuses were soon shuttered.
In October 2014, the company’s CEO, along with three other college employees, were charged with one count of conspiracy and multiple counts of theft of government money in a federal indictment. Prosecutors at the time said the school’s specialty was to coach students to lie on federal financial aid forms. They also came to learn the school would hire strippers to help with recruitment efforts.
Amor, who was convicted in 2015 of one count of conspiracy to steal government funds and 12 counts of theft of government funds and was sentenced in 2016 to eight years in prison, submitted fake high school diplomas and GED information to receive federal grants. The scheme left many students with large debts and no way to pay them off.
FastTrain was one of the for-profit colleges featured in a Miami Herald investigation called Higher Ed Hustle, which examined the questionable practices of some for-profit colleges, including ones that provided poor quality education at exorbitant rates.
“Alejandro Amor and his co-conspirators preyed on vulnerable men and women who sought educational assistance to improve their quality of life,” Ferrer said. “As a result, FastTrain defrauded the students out of a legitimate education and the U.S. government out of federal funds that were intended to help those in need of support. The multi-million dollar penalties and damages in this civil suit, in addition to the lengthy prison term imposed against Mr. Amor in the criminal proceedings, should serve as a strong warning that fraud schemes do not pay.”