The former president of Morris Brown College has pleaded guilty to embezzling millions of dollars in federal funds that were intended to cover student tuition.
Dr. Dolores Cross, 69, who was president of the 125-year-old college from November 1998 until February 2002, had been scheduled to go on trial Monday. In exchange for her plea, prosecutors moved to dismiss 27 other counts.
Her attorney, Drew Findling, says Cross hoped that ending the prosecution would assist Morris Brown in regaining its accreditation.
“Dr. Cross hoped that her presidency would improve the school’s academic standing and build on the college’s tradition,” Findling says. “She is proud of the progress the college made during her presidency.”
According to a December 2004 indictment, Cross and Parvesh Singh, the school’s former director of financial aid and enrollment services, fraudulently obtained $3.4 million in federally insured student loans and Pell Grants, in part to cover a $3.3 million credit debt and school expenses.
Approximately $1 million of those funds have been repaid to the U.S. Department of Education, according to prosecutors.
Morris Brown obtained the money legally but never should have kept it, prosecutors say, because loans were applied for in the names of students who never attended the college, had already left or attended part-time.
Most of the ineligible students had no knowledge the loans had been applied for in their names, or that they would be expected to repay the loans, say court documents.
Federal prosecutor Lynn Adam says the students should be able to “straighten this out with the Department of Education” and that their credit records should be cleared.
Prosecutors are recommending that Cross be sentenced to 10 to 16 months in prison. Had she gone to trial on the single 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.
Her attorneys indicated they would seek a lesser sentence because of an undisclosed medical condition. She will pay $11,000 in restitution.
Singh pleaded guilty last week to one count of theft of federal financial aid funds and had been expected to testify against Cross. Attorneys for Singh and Cross emphasized that neither defendant personally benefited from the stolen funds.
Morris Brown College is one of six institutions of higher learning that comprise the cluster of historically Black colleges known as the Atlanta University Center.
Lesser known than sibling schools Morehouse and Spelman colleges, Morris Brown was founded by former slaves affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1881. For more than a century, the college took many students from poor backgrounds — large numbers of whom returned to their hometowns as teachers.
— Associated Press
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com