Dolores Cross, the former Morris Brown College president convicted of embezzling millions of dollars in government money to cover the school’s debts, was sentenced Wednesday to five years probation and a year of home confinement.
U.S. District Judge Julie E. Carnes said the sentence, which was agreed on by prosecutors and Cross’ attorneys, was based on her age and health and the fact that she did not benefit personally from the crime.
“The defendants have admitted their guilt, will be convicted felons, will serve sentences involving confinement and will pay restitution,” David E. Nahmias, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in a statement. “When the defendants arrived at Morris Brown, the college was already in serious financial condition. Thereafter, these defendants misappropriated … money in fairly complicated ways in what appears to have been a misguided and ultimately criminal attempt to keep Morris Brown afloat.”
In a statement released Wednesday, the college board trustees said they were elated that “the current ordeal is over.”
“This sad chapter in the college’s history is now closed,” said Dr. William P. DeVeaux, chairman of the board. “The Morris Brown College family should be applauded for staying the course and supporting the continued forward movement of the college under very difficult and trying circumstances.”
Cross, 70, was president of the 125-year-old college from November 1998 until February 2002.
She pleaded guilty in May to embezzling the funds. In exchange for the plea, federal prosecutors dismissed 27 other counts against her.
Cross and Parvesh Singh, the school’s former financial aid and enrollment director, fraudulently obtained $3.4 million in student loans and Pell grants, in part to cover a $3.3 million credit debt and school expenses, prosecutors said.
Singh, 64, also was sentenced to five years probation and 18 months of home confinement.
Morris Brown obtained the money legally but should not have kept it, prosecutors said, because loans were applied for in the names of students who never attended the college, had already left or attended part-time.
According to court documents, most of the students had no knowledge of the loans or that they would be expected to repay them.
Prosecutors had recommended that Cross be sentenced to between 10 and 16 months in prison. Had she gone to trial on the count to which she pleaded guilty, she could have faced up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
In May, her attorneys indicated they would seek a lesser sentence because of an undisclosed medical condition.
Singh pleaded guilty to one count of theft of federal financial aid funds and had been expected to testify against Cross. Attorneys for Singh and Cross said neither defendant personally benefited from the stolen funds.
According to Getchel L. Caldwell, Morris Brown’s vice president for institutional advancement, the college’s endowment dropped to zero after yet another financial crisis in 2002. A year later, the college lost its accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, even as alumni donations topped $5 million. By 2004, however, alumni contributions had plummeted to just over $203,000.
With no accreditation and few funds, Morris Brown’s 48 courses have been whittled down to two, and a student enrollment that had surpassed 3,000 stood at only 66 last year. Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, president of SACS’ Commission on Colleges, says the school has not reapplied for membership.
— By Diverse staff and wire reports
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