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Former Morris Brown College President, Financial Aid Director Indicted for Fraud

Former Morris Brown College President, Financial Aid Director Indicted for Fraud
Federal authorities say Dolores Cross, Parvesh Singh were involved in student loan scheme By Tracie Powell

Morris Brown College officials in Atlanta are being mum about the recent indictment of their former president and financial aid director.

Dr. Dolores Cross, who now teaches at DePaul University in Illinois, and her financial aid director Parvesh Singh face a total of 34 indictments in an alleged $5 million fraud scheme using student loans. Authorities say Cross and Singh unlawfully obtained loans from the U.S. Department of Education in the names of former students or students who never attended Morris Brown.

U.S. Attorney David Nahmias, who brought the charges against Cross and Singh, said the fraud involved students who never went to Morris Brown College, applied to other schools and ran into problems because they were told they were in default on student loans. Those students are reportedly now dealing with damaged credit or difficulty obtaining financial aid, Nahmias said.

According to the indictment, Cross increased spending at the school by $8 million in her first year, partly by giving herself extra staffers, speech writers and housekeepers. To cover the extra expenses, the federal government charges that Singh got $3.4 million worth of ineligible loans. When education officials cut him off, Singh then got his staff to obtain another $980,000 worth of ineligible loans.

Phone calls to lawyers representing Cross and Singh were not immediately returned.

Getchel Caldwell, vice president for institutional advancement at Morris Brown, said, “We’re using the statement from the chairman of the board of trustees. Our attorneys have advised us not to get into the fray of all this.”

Caldwell’s office also released two hotline phone numbers for concerned parents and students to call. Both numbers rang to a message box, which remained full on the day they were called.

James E. Young, chairman of the Morris Brown College board of trustees, did not immediately return phone calls from Black Issues In Higher Education. But on the day the indictments were handed down, Young issued a statement, saying, “Morris Brown College officials have been cooperating with federal authorities since this investigation began two years ago, and we will continue to be cooperative. We are grateful for the work of the U.S. Attorney’s office and we are eager to bring closure to this matter.

“We are extremely appreciative of the outpouring of support from all the constituents of the college in supporting the restoration of Morris Brown College,” he said.

In addition, college officials are seriously discussing selling the school to nationally syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner, his representatives said earlier this month. 

Joyner, whose foundation donated $1 million to the college last year to help returning students pay outstanding balances so that they could continue their education at Morris Brown, has made multiple offers to buy the beleaguered historically Black college over the past two years, but school leaders had rebuffed his offers. Joyner’s sons, Oscar and Tom Jr., were among those to meet with Morris Brown leaders earlier this month, including trustee chairman James Young, to reopen discussions.

“We’re just talking, we’re not going together yet,” Oscar Joyner, told Black America Web. The younger Joyner didn’t immediately release details, only saying that Morris Brown officials had gotten several e-mails and phone calls expressing frustration at why the school wasn’t seriously considering his father’s offer.

Morris Brown has been in a tailspin since getting its accreditation yanked by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 2003. SACS stripped the college of its accreditation, citing the school’s mounting debt, institutional ineffectiveness, poor record-keeping and difficulties with processing financial aid. Most of the 1,500 enrolled students transferred to other colleges or universities when the school’s bid to appeal the SACS decision failed in April 2003 (see Black Issues, April 24, 2003).

Ironically, just as the Joyners resumed talks to buy Morris Brown, Cross and Singh were being arraigned on the charges they face. The indictments didn’t come up in discussions, Tom Joyner Jr. said.

While school officials and trustees won’t comment on the continued turmoil at Morris Brown, at least one former employee is speaking out.

Dr. Grant Venerable, Cross’ former provost and vice president of academic affairs, who exited the college after his boss was turned out, compared the indictment to a “modern-day lynching.”

“Cross’ real crime was being a successful, nationally visible, highly educated and achieved, indeed, divorced, woman in a region of the country that still does not accept that the female gender should operate outside of the domain of traditional domesticity,” Venerable said in a letter to Black Issues In Higher Education.

Venerable, who now works at Lincoln University, questioned the evidence for the indictment and said Cross’ indictment symbolizes a greater threat to other historically Black colleges and universities. “Her case offers the ‘perfect storm’ scenario for any prosecutor bent on seeking the marginalization or exploitation of unpopular minority groups,” he wrote. “Today, Morris Brown College; tomorrow Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta, Fort Valley, Savannah State, and Albany State, and the rest of the Negro schools that were never meant by the powers-that-be to survive past the 1960s.”

Venerable said Cross was an effective leader who inherited Morris Brown’s problems when she took the job in 1998. 

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