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Charges: Columbia U. Exec Took Kickbacks, Gave Financial Aid

NEW YORK β€” A former Columbia University financial aid official pocketed at least $350,000 by carrying out a decades-long scheme that dished out hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid in exchange for kickbacks from three students, authorities said in court papers released Thursday after the four women were arrested.

Melanie Williams-Bethea, director of financial aid at Teachers College until last May, was charged with running the scam since 2008 with students she knew socially.

A criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court said she had vacationed with one of the students in the Dominican Republic, Hawaii, New Orleans and Anguilla, and that they took a cruise together in the Caribbean in 2011.

On its web page, Teachers College described itself as the β€œfirst and largest graduate school of education in the United States” with more than 5,000 students studying health, education, leadership and psychology.

Williams-Bethea, of Queens, was awaiting a court appearance. It was not immediately clear who would represent her against charges including conspiracy, bribery and fraud in connection with federal student aid.

Authorities said in court papers that Williams-Bethea made at least $350,000 in the scheme while each of the students received hundreds of thousands of dollars in unjustified awards, typically tens of thousands of dollars at a time.

The complaint said one student received nearly $1 million in stipends, scholarships and loans over a period of years β€” not all of it legitimately.

It said the school fired her after discovering the alleged wrongdoing.

A message requesting comment from Columbia was not immediately returned.

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