COLUMBUS, Ohio – A Pataskala couple have pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud multiple federal programs by committing student-aid fraud, tax-return fraud, and Medicaid and SNAP fraud. One defendant also pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and witness tampering, while the other pleaded guilty to committing bank fraud. They caused a total loss of more than half a million dollars.
Damien M. Johnson, 39, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court this morning before U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. to one count of conspiracy to commit student loan fraud and one count of bank fraud. Kisha C. Hollins-Johnson, 41, pleaded guilty in August to one count of conspiring to commit student loan fraud and theft of government funds, committing student loan fraud, making a false statement to HUD, witness tampering and two counts of theft of government money.
According to their pleas, from at least 2011 through 2017, the defendants recruited more than five people to provide their personal information to apply for college admissions at Columbus State Community College.
All of the students fraudulently enrolled in online classes at the college by lying on their financial aid forms. Hollins-Johnson completed coursework for all of the students. The students were enrolled in the same courses and chose the same or similar topics for their papers.
When Johnson was not making satisfactory academic progress, Hollins-Johnson created fake documents, including medical records, for use in an academic appeals process in order for Johnson to remain eligible to receive financial aid. She fabricated a letter purporting to be from a doctor that claimed Johnson had sickle cell anemia. The doctor did not write the note, and in fact was a gynecologist.
In total, the U.S. Department of Education issued nearly $220,000 to Columbus State and as refunds to the defendants. Any amount of student loan above the cost of tuition and fees was given to the defendants.
Johnson also committed bank fraud by obtaining seven checks totaling at least $73,000 from an 87-year-old victim who had dementia. Johnson used the money on a variety of personal transactions, including $7,150 at a pawnshop, $1,798 at Gucci, $1,558 at Louis Vuitton, $1,182 in payments to vehicle dealers and $2,500 at a law firm.
Hollins-Johnson submitted false tax returns by claiming fake defendants and educational credits. Johnson contacted the IRS pretending to be at least one of the other taxpayers and delivered portions of the tax refunds to other individuals.
The couple also fraudulently obtained SNAP food stamp benefits by claiming they were each single when they were married. As part of the conspiracy, Hollins-Johnson submitted false letters verifying Johnson’s employment for food stamp eligibility.
In 2014, Hollins-Johnson submitted an application for a $200,000 home loan insured by the FHA. When she submitted the loan application, she used fabricated employment documents that stated she worked for the State of Ohio. Additionally, she fabricated a form the mortgage company sent to a person they believed was a Human Relations Manager to verify employment.
After investigators searched Hollins-Johnson’s residence, she engaged in witness tampering. She engaged in a scheme that involved creating a fake Facebook account and using an app that allows users to change their caller ID and apply a voice changer feature to call a witness in the case. The scheme led to an in-person meeting, where Hollins-Johnson instructed the witness not to talk with law enforcement.
As part of their pleas, the defendants agree to pay more than $450,000 in restitution.
Bank fraud is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Witness tampering is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Theft of government money is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Congress sets the maximum statutory sentence. Sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the Court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.
David M. DeVillers, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; Bryant Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation; Brad Geary, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General; John F. Woolly, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General; and officials with the Fairfield County Job & Family Services Fraud and Benefit Recovery division announced the plea entered into today before U.S. District Judge U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. Assistant United States Attorney Peter K. Glenn-Applegate is representing the United States in this case.