No doubt about it, the state of education in the United States is suffering some turbulent times. In Oklahoma, high-stakes testing, unfunded mandates, low teacher pay, and budget cuts are but a few of the problems facing the state's administrators, educators, and students.
In order to combat some of the difficulties associated with standardized testing and its ties to school performance indicators and evaluation under No Child Left Behind, many districts have begun to provide extensive tutoring for students in an effort to improve test scores. Some schools rely on volunteers to tutor, but others utilize federal funds for student tutoring. There is certainly money to be had for tutoring companies who contract with large public school systems. According to affidavits filed in federal court, three Midwest City women tried to take advantage of this by billing Oklahoma City Public Schools for tutoring sessions with students that never happened.
Patricia R. Burns, 71, and her daughter Rebecca E. Cotton, 42, are the owners of two tutoring companies that share an office space in Midwest City, Oklahoma: A Plus Academics and Foundations Tutoring. According to a federal indictment, during the 2009-2010 school year, the two women pressured people employed as tutors for the organizations to fill out and sign student attendance rosters for tutoring sessions that did not take place. The third woman indicted in the alleged scheme is Bobbie J. Dailey, 62, a school counselor with U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City. Dailey worked as a tutor with A Plus Academics and served as a liaison between the company and the high school.
The false billing for non-existent tutoring occurred at both Grant High School and Roosevelt Middle School.
Because Oklahoma City Public Schools used federal funds to pay the tutoring contracts, the women are indicted on federal fraud charges in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. During the scheme, OKCPS paid A Plus Academics and Foundations Tutoring more than $1.2 million combined.
Each woman has pleaded not guilty to multiple federal felony charges including conspiracy and making false statements. Cotton faces additional charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft. The women face up to five years in prison for each count of conspiracy and making false statements, but Cotton faces an additional 32 years if convicted of wire fraud (20 years), money laundering (10 years), and identity theft (2 years).
Whenever the federal government has been bilked of its funds, their retribution is swift and aggressive. The allegations against the women are investigated by the IRS, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Economic Crimes Task Force. Facing such formidable opponents requires skillful criminal defense representation that can only be provided by an experienced federal white collar crimes lawyer.
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