The former head of financial aid at Columbia University's Teachers College who was arrested on conspiracy and bribery charges has been released on $50,000 bail.
Federal authorities say a former official at Columbia University's Teachers College carried out a decades-long scheme that dished out hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid in exchange for kickbacks from unqualified students.
Melanie Williams-Bethea appeared in Manhattan federal court Thursday after authorities charged her with making over $350,000 illegally.
Authorities say the students gave Williams-Bethea kickbacks between 2008 and 2017 after they received financial aid.
It wasn't immediately clear if the four women had attorneys who could comment on their behalfs.
The financial aid director was pals with the students she conspired with - going on vacations with one of them to the Dominican Republic, Hawaii, Anguilla, and New Orleans, and going to clubs and concerts with others, according to the complaint.
"During a review of financial aid awards this past spring, administrators at Teachers College discovered irregularities in the disbursement of financial aid to several students". He says the probe identified improper actions by a single staff member.
'We take the matter of fraud and the misappropriation of College funds very seriously, and remain deeply distressed over the betrayal of trust in this matter, ' said James L. Gardner, associate vice president for development and external affairs at Teachers College, Columbia University.
The financial aid director was sacked last May. Still, Williams-Bethea approved cost-of-attendance forms for the students for as much as three times above the standard amount a graduate student might claim.
It says the school fired her after discovering the alleged wrongdoing. In the following seven years, she took no classes and wasn't entitled to any aid at all, yet she got between $75,000 and $121,152 a year.
Kpana faces up to 35 years in prison, and Williams-Bethea up to 40 years.
None of the defendants could be reached for comment. The kickback checks often came within days of the stipend payments and included notes like "Love" or "Thank you!"