Pair admit student aid fraud

By The Associated Press

JACKSON — Two people have pleaded guilty to submitting fraudulent applications to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid program.

Shanika Smith and Cedrick Thomas, both of Noxubee County, entered the pleas Tuesday in federal court in Jackson.

The Clarion-Ledger reports that they each face a maximum five years in prison and a $20,000 fine when sentenced July 6.

The two are among 12 individuals indicted in a scam to submit false applications for federal financial aid.

Prosecutors said the scheme netted about $52,800, but the government is investigating many other cases of possible financial aid fraud in the northern and southwest parts of the state. Prosecutors said they cannot find where any money was spent for education purposes.

Five have now pleaded guilty and another one, Shawanda Bryant of Macon, was scheduled to be in court Wednesday.

A status hearing on the remaining defendants, including alleged central figure Stephanie Regina Brewer is scheduled for Thursday.

Brewer, of Columbus is listed in court documents as the person who prepared and submitted the false documents on behalf of the others.

A person must have a high school diploma or a GED certificate to receive federal assistance, such as a Pell grant or student loan, based on financial need and household income. None of the 11 individuals for whom Brewer allegedly submitted the false financial aid documents had a high school diploma or GED, according to the government.

According to court records, Smith received a $6,541 credit voucher and Thomas received a $2,834 credit voucher to take online classes offered by Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs. Colo.

In addition to Smith and Thomas, Kayshayla Henry of Columbus, and Lakeisha Smith and Shamekia Smith, both of Macon, have pleaded guilty.

Click video to hear audio