Scammy For-Profit 'College' Knew What Students Want: Strippers
In today's "For-Profit Colleges Are Scummy and Bad" news, we bring you the tale of Florida's "FastTrain" chain of educational institutions, which went out of business in 2012 following raids by the FBI. The company's CEO and three other executives are now the subject of criminal indictments for conspiracy and theft of government funds through their scammy little quasi-educational enterprise, which at one time operated seven storefront "campuses" in the state. In addition to the usual elements you'd expect in a story like this -- bogus training, high fees paid for by federal education programs, and leaving students with worthless certificates and piles of student loans that they'll never escape, FastTrain also went out of its way to be especially scummy, and we aren't just talking about the strippers they used to recruit students.
But yes, let's talk about the strippers first, since, even though he once taught for a couple years at a for-profit school, Yr. Dok Zoom never saw any of those around the hallowed halls -- or at least none who weren't struggling to write a research paper. According to the Miami Herald, the strippers were hired as "admissions representatives" by at least one FastTrain campus:
The “exotic dancer” allegation comes from the U.S. attorney’s office and Florida’s attorney general, who this week both joined a pending whistle-blower lawsuit against FastTrain. A civil complaint filed by the two agencies say at least one FastTrain campus used strippers to attract students, though it did not identify the campus.
The college “purposely hired attractive women and sometimes exotic dancers and encouraged them to dress provocatively while they recruited young men in neighborhoods to attend FastTrain,” the lawsuit states.
Really, though, as Jia Tolentino notes at Jezebel, the strippers may be the least scummy part of the operation. Compared to FastTrain, the for-profit school Yr Dok Zoom taught at was a regular Ivy League campus. In addition to the civil suit filed by a whistleblower against FastTrain, there's also the alleged massive criminal fraud by former FastTrain CEO Alejandro Amor, who managed to skim enough off students and the federal government to buy a nice little $2 million mansion, a 54-foot yacht, a Jaguar for his wife, and lots and lots of vacations. And the school did it through an especially creative scam: Where most for-profits prey on students who have at least minimally completed high school or a GED, FastTrain actively went after people who were even less qualified for college:
At the heart of the scam, according to the indictment: FastTrain violated federal rules that require students to have either a high school diploma or a GED before signing up. The indictment outlines numerous alleged instances where FastTrain administrators broke this rule. Students were misled to believe that a high school diploma wasn’t required, or that they could earn it while attending the college.
In one instance, at the Fort Lauderdale campus, FastTrain is accused of telling a prospective student that she could “earn” her high school diploma by taking an exam that the school provided her. After the exam was done, FastTrain gave the student “a fictitious and fraudulent diploma from Cornerstone Christian Academy,” the indictment states.
All told, prosecutors say FastTrain admitted roughly 1,300 students who didn’t have high school diplomas — using fraud to make the government think the students were eligible for financial aid.
The payoff: FastTrain received $6,560,000 in Pell grants and student loans for those students.
Hey, they were just giving people educational opportunities! And just to add a little more Florida Grift to the mix, Amor and FastTrain may have helped buy some cover for their nice little school scam through generous donations to politicians, which is apparently just what you do if you're a for-profit college in Florida:
Amor, the CEO, wrote checks to the Republican Party of Florida, Charlie Crist’s independent party campaign for the U.S. Senate, and South Florida congressional Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings.
Hastings, in particular, had close ties to FastTrain. In addition to receiving at least $6,500 in donations from Amor, Hastings delivered the commencement speach at a FastTrain graduation ceremony, and the college established a “Leadership Scholarship” in Hastings’ name.
On the civil side, the whistleblower suit is a doozy as well. It's being brought by a former admissions employee in Miami, who alleges that the company routinely engaged in tax fraud, falsified attendance documents and other financial aid forms, and had a "corporate strategy focused on increased admissions and profits above all else."
The main goal was to get bodies behind desks, whether those bodies had any realistic prospect of even entering college, much less finishing a degree. The suit claims that as part of the schools' attempt to scam federal student aid,
admissions representatives drive to low-income neighborhoods and tell people that if they get in the car, they will receive a quality education and job opportunities. Admissions representatives then drive carloads of prospective students to a FastTrain campus so that enrollment and financial aid paperwork can be completed. Many of these students do not read or understand English, cannot write their own name, do not have high school diplomas or equivalents, and do not have identification cards.
And the best part of all is that taxpayer funds helped finance the scam, and if students were lucky enough to get loans, they will presumably still be on the hook for those loans. And while FastTrain and other for-profit schools were raking in the big bucks, Florida Gov. Rick Scott was also busy cutting college funding for state schools. Isn't the Opportunity Society a wonderful thing?
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.