The former director of admissions at FastTrain College testified in federal court on Monday, telling jurors that school owner Alejandro Amor scolded employees over the forged signatures they were putting on student financial aid documents.
Amor wasn’t upset that the forgeries were happening, ex-employee Juan Arreola testified. The for-profit college owner was ticked off that they weren’t convincing enough.
“The name’s crooked ... you need to coach your guys better,” Arreola said Amor told him. Amor’s suggested method, Arreola said: Put the original signature up to the sunlight in front of a glass window, and then trace it.
“You need to show your guys how to take forging classes,” Arreola said his former boss told him.
Arreola is one of many ex-employees testifying in the criminal trial of Amor, the owner and former school president. The trial may last until December.
Miami-based FastTrain once boasted seven Florida campuses, including locations in Kendall, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Pembroke Pines. Amor had a private jet and a 54-foot yacht named Big One.
The FBI raided the campuses in 2012, and Amor’s colleges shut down soon after. The college owner now faces 12 counts of theft of government money, and one count of conspiracy. Prosecutors say FastTrain defrauded the federal Pell grant and student loan programs of millions of dollars by enrolling ineligible students who lacked a high school diploma.
A recent Miami Herald investigation, Higher-Ed Hustle, highlighted the persistent fraud allegations against some schools in the for-profit college sector. In many cases, it is ex-employees who say they witnessed or participated in the lawbreaking.
Amor pleaded not guilty, and his defense attorney argues that Amor tried to follow the rules, and it was rogue employees like Arreola who orchestrated the fraud. No one disputes that FastTrain enrolled students who lacked a high school diploma — and did so repeatedly.
Arreola and four other former FastTrain employees have already entered guilty pleas, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Arreola was sentenced to 18 months in prison in February, along with restitution of more than $250,000.
Arreola, 30, told jurors on Monday that his early days at FastTrain were filled with optimism. After starting as an admissions recruiter at a $42,000 salary, his willingness to aggressively find students got him promoted twice — he was making $80,000 as the corporate director of admissions. It was a lot of money for a 25-year-old, Arreola said.
And Arreola said Amor promised his inner circle of employees that a bigger payday was coming.
“This thing is going big,” he said Amor told them, predicting that FastTrain would eventually become a publicly traded company. “He would tell us that ‘We’re all going to be millionaires.’ ”
Arreola, who has already begun serving his 18-month prison sentence, wore a beige prison jump suit. When he walked, the metal ankle cuffs on his legs made a rattling sound.
Arreola said FastTrain recruited students by driving around in poor neighborhoods, and selling them the “dream” of a new career. It was a false dream, he said, as students rarely graduated from the school.
After the 2012 FBI raid, Arreola said his boss’ demeanor changed. One by one, admissions reps were getting fired, and Amor started acting as though he was unaware of the fraud.
“In a way, we kind of felt betrayed,” Arreola said. “I was disgusted with the way that everything went down.”
Arreola said Amor eventually fired him as well. Though he’d once been close with his boss, the two men never spoke again.