United States and State of Florida File Complaint Against Defunct For-Profit College Chain and Its President for False Claims Act Violations
The United States and State of Florida have brought a civil complaint against FastTrain II Corp., a private, for-profit chain of schools that was based in Miami, Florida and was doing business as FastTrain College and Alejandro (Alex) Amor, 56, of Coral Gables, who was FastTrain’s owner, president and Chief Executive Officer. The case arises from false statements and claims that FastTrain and Amor presented to, or caused to be presented to, the United States and Florida, in violation of the federal False Claims Act, the Florida False Claims Act and common law.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General, Yessyka Santana, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s (ED OIG) Southeastern Regional Office, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement. On October 2, 2014, U.S. Attorney Ferrer announced that Amor and other individuals associated with FastTrain were charged in a fifteen count indictment with conspiracy to steal government funds, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, and theft of government funds, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 641.
At its peak, FastTrain operated seven Florida campuses in Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Duval counties. The governments’ complaint in the civil case alleges that from at least January 1, 2009 through June 22, 2012, when FastTrain closed, FastTrain and Amor knowingly submitted, or caused to be submitted, numerous false claims for payment to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) arising from their fraudulent course of conduct in order to participate in the federal student aid programs authorized pursuant to Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (“HEA”), as amended, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1070 et seq. (“Title IV, HEA Programs”). The Title IV, HEA programs, which are administered by ED, provide students with financial aid in the form of, among other things, Federal Pell Grants, Federal Direct Loans, and formerly, loans guaranteed by the federal government.
According to the governments’ complaint:
FastTrain submitted and/or caused to be submitted false information relating to the eligibility of students to receive Title IV, HEA program assistance, by providing false documentation showing that students had high school diplomas or its recognized equivalent, when they did not. Some FastTrain admissions personnel coached certain prospective ineligible students to lie on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (“FAFSA”) documentation in order for FastTrain to secure more federal funding for students than the students were eligible to receive.
As a result of the fraudulent scheme and its false representations of Title IV eligibility, FastTrain received millions of dollars of Title IV financial aid that it otherwise would not have received but for its conduct.
As alleged in the governments’ complaint, the United States sustained damages for over $4,340,000.00 in student loans ($4,021,321.00 in FDL Program and $320,925.00 in disbursed FFEL Program loans). In addition, the United States has sustained damages through Federal Pell Grants obtained through FastTrain’s fraudulent activities in the amount of $2,212,904.00.
“Federal financial student aid programs are designed to assist students obtain an education. Those who misuse federal funds will be brought to justice and held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney Ferrer. “This case is an example of our commitment to use our civil enforcement laws—as well as criminal laws—to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure that individuals who seek to improve their lives through a quality education are able to do so.”
“Taking advantage of students in order to exploit federal financial aid programs is reprehensible, and we will continue to work with our federal partners to protect Florida students and the integrity of federal financial aid,” said Attorney General Bondi.
“Abuse of the federal student aid program is unacceptable,” said ED OIG Special Agent in Charge Yessyka Santanta. “Tracking down and holding accountable companies like FastTrain and its executives that take advantage of students to benefit the companies’ bottom line remains a priority of our office.”
“This case represents the abuse of a federal program designed to aid students,” said George L. Piro, SAC Miami. “The FBI and its partners will continue to investigate scams like this that seek to steal taxpayer dollars.”
The case is captioned United States of America, State of Florida ex rel Juan Peña, Plaintiffs/Relator vs. FastTrain II Corp. d/b/a FastTrain College, and Alejandro Amor, Defendants, Case No.: 1:12-cv-21431-COOKE/TORRES, United States District Court, Southern District of Florida. The United States brings its complaint to recover treble damages, civil penalties, and costs under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-33, and to recover damages and other monetary relief under the common law and equitable theories of unjust enrichment and payment by mistake. Florida seeks similar relief under the provisions of the Florida False Claims Act, §§ 68.081-68.09, Florida Statutes and common law.
The criminal investigation was underway when the civil suit was originally filed under the False Claims Act as a whistleblower suit against FastTrain by a FastTrain admissions officer. The False Claims Act allows private citizens to file whistleblower suits to provide the government information about wrongdoing. As was done in this case, the False Claims Act and the Florida statute authorize the federal and state governments, respectively, to intervene in and assume primary responsibility for litigating the respective federal and state claims in a filed lawsuit. If the United States proves that a defendant has knowingly submitted false claims, it is entitled to recover three times the damages that resulted and a penalty of $5,500 to $11,000 per claim. Florida’s statute provides similar relief.
U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the Florida Office of the Attorney General, ED-OIG, FBI, and ED Office of General Counsel. This matter is being litigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Weinkle, Trial Attorney Jay Majors of the Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice and Mark S. Hamilton, Special Counsel, Consumer Protection Division, Office of the Attorney General State of Florida.
The claims asserted against FastTrain and Amor in the United States’ and State of Florida’s complaint, are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.