BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The United States Department of Justice has sentenced a Baton Rouge man to 132 months in federal prison after being convicted of fraud schemes and money laundering relating to financial aid.
According to United States Attorney Ronald Gathe Jr., 34-year-old Elliot Sterling was indicted in 2020.
Evidence during the trial shows Sterling received $1,468,239 in his personal bank and business bank accounts from federal student aid loans and grants that were connected to 180 Baton Rouge Community College students. Sterling allegedly used students’ personal information to complete their Free Applications for Federal Student Aid, enroll them in classes and create the student’s BankMobile accounts that received federal student loans, giving him the ability to funnel Department of Education money directly into his own accounts.
Sterling also had fake academic qualifications for 168 students created. Of those, 145 did not obtain a high school diploma. A witness testified that Sterling paid him $5,000 to create 42 diplomas with fake grades. The majority of the students targeted either withdrew or failed classes. Some were incarcerated when their FAFSAs were submitted.
According to the DOJ, Sterling submitted a small business loan application on behalf of Sterling Educational Consulting LLC, in which he changed the business’s proceedings to cover his prior guilty plea. As a result, the Small Business Administration loaned Sterling $90,000 for the business to remain in operation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sterling allegedly withdrew $75,000 in cash, while spending over $253,000 at casinos in Louisiana, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
Official documents state after the eight-day trial, the jury unanimously convicted Sterling of five counts of wire fraud involving a scheme to defraud the Department of Education federal student aid program, two counts of financial aid fraud, two counts of wire fraud involving the Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and six counts of money laundering involving the earnings from two wire fraud schemes he was linked to.
The court ordered Sterling to pay restitution in the amounts of $2,760,422 to the U.S. Department of Education and $90,000 to the Small Business Administration.