Two employees of the Ron Thomas School of Cosmetology in Baltimore have been sentenced to home confinement and periods of probation for their roles in an elaborate fraud scheme that bilked the nation's student loan program out of $1.5 million.
U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis sentenced school secretary Mary Innis yesterday and bookkeeper Patricia Kress on Tuesday -- each receiving three years of probation, the first six months of it confined to their homes.
Innis was too distraught to say anything yesterday. When she stood to speak to the judge, she started to cry, trembling as she tried to compose herself.
"Miss Innis is truly, truly remorseful," said her attorney, Beth M. Farber. "It was a tragic mistake to allow herself to be sucked into this."
Prosecutor W. Warren Hamel told the judge that Innis, as part of the scheme to fraudulently collect student loan money from the federal government, processed paperwork for students she knew had left the school
But he said that Innis was the first school employee to cooperate with federal agents and prosecutors, providing key grand jury testimony that helped them to uncover the scheme and secure indictments against the couple who owned the school, Ron and Von Thomas.
The Thomases pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to commit fraud and are to be sentenced Oct. 3. Innis, Kress and a third employee, Mary Wehry, were charged with fraud in May after they reached plea agreements and pledged their cooperation. Wehry is to be sentenced Aug. 26.
"Miss Innis played a very important role in the fraud scheme, but she also played a very important role in unraveling the fraud scheme," Hamel said. "I was perfectly satisfied with the extent of her cooperation."
Court records show that Von Thomas was the "mastermind" of the scheme. She ordered her employees to falsify hundreds of records -- high school diplomas, transcripts and Social Security cards -- to qualify ineligible students for federal aid, according to the records. Von Thomas also falsified attendance records and test scores for people who had dropped out or never attended the school.
The school, which closed in 1995, had three locations in Baltimore.
Pub Date: 8/08/97