Miami-Dade County

Man claims school official showed him how to falsify scholarship application

Antonio Linen
Antonio Linen Courtesy Miami-Dade Corrections

A Homestead man charged with stealing nearly $4,000 from a state scholarship program for disadvantaged kids told investigators that an administrator at his daughter’s school taught him how to cheat the system, according to a police affidavit.

Miami-Dade police charged Antonio Linen with third-degree grand theft on Tuesday, saying they had proof that he illegally secured $3,954 in tuition payments for his daughter’s education last year at a Lincoln-Martí school in Homestead. Linen received the money in three checks from Step Up For Students, the largest administrator of Florida’s tax-credit scholarships for private schools.

But police say Linen, a mechanic for Miami-Dade County, made $64,000 in 2014, far too much money to qualify. They say Linen admitted during questioning that he lied on documents and said his 78-year-old mother was his daughter’s legal guardian in order to obtain money for tuition payments.

“He admitted that he provided false information in the application for the sole purpose of receiving financial aid from the Step up for Student (sic) program,” Detective Dennis Delgado wrote in an affidavit.

During an interview at his house, police say Linen offered to refund the money and stressed that he wouldn’t have known about the program had the school’s assistant principal not mentioned it to him and guided him in the process. The affidavit doesn’t mention whether police pursued the allegations against the school any further, and Miami-Dade Police did not respond to questions from the Miami Herald Wednesday.

Absolutely, we have no reason to believe [the fraud allegations]

Demetrio Perez, Jr, founder of Lincoln-Marti schools.

Demetrio Perez Jr., the founder of Lincoln-Martí schools, said he doesn’t believe his staff has done anything wrong and hasn’t heard anything further from investigators since they came to his office in the fall asking about Linen. He said administrators assist parents with scholarship applications, but in a purely “ministerial” role.

“Absolutely, we have no reason to believe” Linen’s allegations, Perez said. “We try to be very transparent with the handling of these payments.”

The allegations against Linen and the school first surfaced in November 2014, when the Department of Education received a tip that Linen, acting with the assistance of an administrator, had falsified an application to Step Up For Students. The state and scholarship program investigated and quickly cut off his scholarship checks after they confirmed that Linen’s mother was not the guardian of his daughter.

Then, almost a year later, Linen’s brother met with investigators and told them Antonio Linen had committed fraud. Now pursuing criminal charges, investigators pulled Linen’s scholarship application from Lincoln-Martí schools and met with Assistant Principal Yuleisly Lopez and Principal Yamila Aguiar.

The two women did not respond to messages left with a secretary at the school.

Patrick Gibbons, a spokesman for Step Up For Students, produced a document that showed the Lincoln-Martí school where Linen sent his daughter has been “compliant” with state voucher requirements every year. But he said the non-profit plans to conduct more audits of applications associated with the Miami-Dade private-school chain.

“We have no reason to suspect additional fraud is occurring at Lincoln-Martí schools,” he wrote in an email. “But Step Up for Students takes every accusation of fraud seriously.”