Man Posing as Students Convicted in $1.4 Million Loan Scheme

It is not as if Elliott Sterling was not enterprising, clever, persuasive and potentially helpful by offering his services to help college students apply for grants and loans from the program called Federal Student Aid and known as FAFSA.  But he also committed fraud by stealing the funds and spending them at casinos and elsewhere. Now he awaits sentencing! What in the world led him to think this could lead anywhere BUT to prison. The thing is that our educational system does not teach the Law of Cause & Effect or laws of Karma or that What Goes Around Comes Around. Until it does, these failings will continue to appear.

Man Posing as Students Convicted in $1.4 Million Loan Scheme

Elliott Sterling of Louisiana falsified nearly 200 financial aid applications and spent at least $250,000 of the money at casinos, prosecutors said.

Baton Rouge Community College, where Elliott Sterling would sometimes pose as a student to fraudulently collect financial aid for his own personal spending.
Credit…Travis Spradling/The Advocate

A Louisiana man was convicted on Wednesday of defrauding the federal student loan system of more than $1.4 million in an elaborate scheme that involved posing as students and hiring impersonators to get financial aid he then pocketed.

The man, Elliott Sterling, of Baton Rouge, obtained grants and loans intended for 180 students by using their personal information to fill out federal financial aid applications and enroll them in classes at Baton Rouge Community College from September 2017 to November 2019, prosecutors said.

Mr. Sterling, who was 32 when he was charged in September 2020, took most of the financial aid money for himself and spent more than $253,000 of it at casinos in Louisiana, Nevada and Pennsylvania, prosecutors said.

A jury in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana convicted Mr. Sterling on 15 counts of wire fraud, financial aid fraud and money laundering. The F.B.I. had seized about $422,600 of the proceeds, which the jury ordered be forfeited.

Mr. Sterling, who does not have a law degree, represented himself in court this week, saying he was innocent and claiming that he was being punished for “making money,” The Advocate, a Louisiana newspaper, reported. Mr. Sterling did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

Edd Cole, special agent in charge of the southwestern regional office of the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, said in a statement that the office was “committed to fighting student aid fraud and will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who orchestrates or participates in these types of crimes.”

Baton Rouge Community College said in a statement that it hoped that Mr. Elliott’s conviction would deter others “seeking to deceive and misuse the federal student loan process.”

Kizzy Payton, a spokeswoman for the college, said on Saturday that the fraudulent activity was first brought to the school’s attention after the F.B.I. received an alert from BankMobile, a banking service the college uses to process financial aid.

“We then partnered with the F.B.I. and maintained our strong internal controls to help minimize the impact of the fraudulent activity and provided all the requested documents to support the investigation,” Ms. Payton said.

Mr. Sterling first approached potential students to enroll in classes in September 2017 and offered to help them for a fee. He also promised some of the students that they could get financial aid that they would not need to repay.

To collect federal grants and loans, Mr. Sterling used the students’ personal information and coupled it with fraudulent obituaries, fraudulent diplomas and other falsified details about their background to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as FAFSA.

Most of the applicants did not qualify for federal financial aid without the faked documents, including 145 students who had not actually received a high school diploma or its equivalent, such as a G.E.D., and students who were incarcerated, prosecutors said. The students typically did not have access to their accounts with FAFSA, the college or the bank accounts that received the financial aid.

None of the students made academic progress at the college and 172 failed or withdrew from every class they were enrolled in, prosecutors said.

In one case, Mr. Sterling collected nearly $7,000 in federal student aid on behalf of a student but ultimately only gave the student $1,000.

Mr. Sterling concealed his role in preparing the financial aid documents and signed a form promising to repay the Department of Education for the loan, a master promissory note, posing as the student.

Most students who were awarded money told investigators that they were unaware that they had applied for student loans and that Mr. Sterling was the one who had signed notes promising that they would repay the loans.

Mr. Sterling went with many of the students to the college campus to help them complete the financial aid process. He also occasionally presented himself as a student and offered to pay individuals to impersonate students at the financial aid office.

In addition to the student loan scheme, Mr. Sterling also received a $90,000 loan from the Small Business Administration for his business, Sterling Educational Consulting L.L.C., after he falsified his company’s revenue in the application for aid meant to help businesses affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr. Sterling’s sentencing is scheduled for July 7.



Kirkus Reviews, the gold-standard for independent & accurate reviews, has this to say about

What Goes Around Comes Around:

A stable, positive, non preachy, objective voice makes the book stand apart from others in the genre. A successful guide that uses anecdotes to reveal powerful truths about life.

~ Kirkus Reviews

“The author gives readers not just points or principles to ponder, but real human experiences that demonstrate them!
Kirkus Reviews
Buy What Goes Around at Amazon

“I’ve read a number of books that focus on sharing a similar message, including “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, “The Answer” by John Assaraf & Murray Smith, “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill, and I must say that I find Rob’s to be my favorite. – Sheryl Woodhouse, founder of Livelihood Matters LLC

Man Posing as Students Convicted in $1.4 Million Loan Scheme

Man Posing as Students Convicted in $1.4 Million Loan Scheme

Here’s a head scratcher that I’m of two minds about as it relates to the subject in question, though either way it is a great, multiple illustration of “Cause & Effect” in action. On the one hand it is somewhat poetic that Jeff Zucker would have to fire Chris Cuomo for the “brother Andrew” matter, while he himself was hiding his own “peccadillo,” only to have that indiscretion revealed and have to “walk the plank” himself!

However, a rule is a rule is a rule and guess what? Yup! “What Goes Around Comes Around!”

One nuance of the situation for Jeff Zucker, was whether the fact that he was carrying around his own secret may be why he didn’t act more decisively on the Cuomo situation? Not to imply that it means he deserved the firing squad if it was true. But he had signed on to follow the rules and lead by example, which he was abusing at the same time that Chris was understating his role to help Andrew. But still, did he equivocate on Cuomo because in his own mind it seemed hypocritical? In the end, it is a small matter but interesting to contemplate nonetheless.

Colombo Family Crime Boss and 12 Others Are Arrested, Prosecutors Say

An indictment unsealed on Tuesday accuses the organization of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort a labor union.

Credit…Jesse Ward


For two decades, the leadership of the Colombo crime family extorted a Queens labor union, federal prosecutors said — an effort that continued unabated even as members of the mob clan cycled through prison, the family’s notorious longtime boss died, and as federal law enforcement closed in.

Over time, what began as a Colombo captain’s shakedown of a union leader, complete with expletive-laced threats of violence, expanded into a cottage industry, prosecutors said, as the Colombo organization assumed control of contracting and union business, with side operations in phony construction certificates, marijuana trafficking and loan-sharking.

On Tuesday, 11 reputed members and associates of the Colombo crime family, including the mob clan’s entire leadership, were charged in a labor racketeering case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.

All but two of the men were arrested Tuesday morning across New York and New Jersey, prosecutors said. Another was surrendered to the authorities on Tuesday; another defendant, identified as the family consigliere, remained at large, prosecutors said.

The indictment accuses the Colombo family of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort an unnamed labor union that represented construction workers, using threats of violence to secure payments and arrange contracts that would benefit the crime family.

The charges are an ambitious effort by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to take down one of the city’s five Mafia families. In addition to the union extortion scheme, which is the heart of the racketeering charge, the indictment charges several misdeeds often associated with the mob, including drug trafficking, money laundering, loan-sharking and falsifying federal labor safety paperwork.

Detention hearings for the defendants in Brooklyn federal court continued into the evening Tuesday, as they entered not-guilty pleas to the charges; prosecutors had asked the court to keep 10 of the defendants in custody.

“Everything we allege in this investigation proves history does indeed repeat itself,” Michael J. Driscoll, F.B.I. assistant director-in-charge, said in a statement. “The underbelly of the crime families in New York City is alive and well.”

Around 2001, prosecutors said, Vincent Ricciardo — a reported captain in the family, also known as “Vinny Unions” — began to demand a portion of a senior labor union official’s salary. When Mr. Ricciardo was convicted and imprisoned on federal racketeering charges in the mid-2000s, prosecutors said, his cousin continued to collect those payments.

Starting in late 2019, prosecutors said, the senior leadership of the Colombo family became directly involved in the shakedown, which extended to broader efforts to siphon money from the union: for example, manipulating the selection of union health fund vendors to contract with entities connected to the family, and diverting more than $10,000 each month from the fund to the family.

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Andrew Russo, 87, who prosecutors describe as the family boss, is accused of taking part in those efforts, as well as a money-laundering scheme to send the proceeds of the union extortion through intermediaries to Colombo associates. He was among nine defendants charged with racketeering.

Mr. Russo appeared in court virtually from the hospital Tuesday; he is set to be detained upon his release, pending a future bail hearing.

The family’s infamous longtime boss, Carmine J. Persico, died in federal custody in North Carolina in March 2019.

Federal law enforcement learned of the extortion scheme about a year ago, prosecutors wrote in a court filing Tuesday; investigators gathered thousands of hours of wiretapped calls and conversations recorded by a confidential witness, wrote the prosecutors, who also described law-enforcement surveillance of meetings among the accused conspirators.

The authorities said they repeatedly captured Mr. Ricciardo and his associates threatening to kill the union official. “I’ll put him in the ground right in front of his wife and kids,” Mr. Ricciardo was recorded saying in June.

On another occasion cited by prosecutors in the memo seeking his detention, Mr. Ricciardo directed the union official to hire a consultant selected by the Colombo family, saying: “It’s my union and that’s it.” Prosecutors said his activities were overseen by a Colombo soldier and the consigliere who remains at large.

Much of the activity outlined in the indictment took place while the defendants were either in prison or on supervised release for prior federal mob-related convictions. Theodore Persico Jr., described as a family captain and soldier, was released from federal prison in 2020 and, despite a directive not to associate with members of organized crime, “directed much of the labor racketeering scheme,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Persico, 58, is set to inherit the role of boss after Mr. Russo, prosecutors wrote.

Several of the defendants were named in what prosecutors described as a fraudulent safety training scheme, in which they falsified state and federal paperwork that is required for construction workers to show they have completed safety training courses.

One of the defendants, John Ragano — whom prosecutors say is a soldier in the Bonanno crime family — is accused of setting up phony occupational safety training schools in New York, which prosecutors said were “mills” that provided fraudulent safety training certificates to hundreds of people.

In October 2020, prosecutors said, an undercover law enforcement officer visited one of the schools in Ozone Park, Queens, and received, from Mr. Ricciardo’s cousin, a blank test form and an answer sheet; weeks later, the agent returned to pick up his federal safety card and paid $500.

The purported schools were also used for meetings with members of La Cosa Nostra — the group of crime families commonly known as the Mafia — and to store illegal drugs and fireworks, according to the indictment.

Mr. Ragano wasn’t charged on the racketeering count, although prosecutors also sought his detention pending trial. In addition to the racketeering count, several defendants, including Mr. Ricciardo and his cousin, were charged with extortion, conspiracy, fraud and conspiracy to make false statements.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.


An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people identified in an indictment as members of the Colombo crime family. It is 11, not more than a dozen.