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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 02, 2018 1:00 am

5 more indicted in tuition scheme

20 ex-staffers accused of bilking $500,000

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

An additional five employees of a British defense contractor with Fort Wayne operations have been indicted on federal charges accusing them of defrauding the company through a tuition assistance program.

That brings to 20 the number of indictments of employees charged with stealing more than $500,000 from BAE Systems from January 2013 to April 2016.

Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne allege the workers signed up for classes through the program, pocketed thousands of dollars in tuition money but never took the classes.

A grand jury returned indictments this week against Tia N. Russell, Tonya L. Sterling, Marjorie R. Warfield, Therese B. Whitsett and Darlene V. Wilson. Each is charged with fraud.

The indictments do not name the company, but BAE Systems confirmed in a statement in January the defendants were its employees.

BAE provides parts for aircraft manufacturers Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. It operates a plant near Fort Wayne International Airport.

A change to the company's tuition assistance program in 2013 allowed upfront payments to employees for classes rather than reimbursements. Court documents say workers began pocketing tuition money almost immediately.

One employee, Andre J. Hollis, submitted a tuition assistance course request on Jan. 3, 2013, according to an indictment. He allegedly stole more than $55,000 through the scheme.

The five charged this week stole more than $106,000, the indictments allege.

Also charged are Damon E. Bryant, Dawaun A. Jackson, Demarcus L. Benson, Calvin J. Howell, Tennille M. Bright, Keyana S. Brooks, Jason C. Butz, Frank J. Martin III, Leamon D. Perry, Stephanie M. Dates, David P. Rinderle Jr., Latonya D. Smith, Nicholas A. Young and Amber N. Szajna.

Ryan Holmes, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Indiana, said Thursday he couldn't say whether more indictments are likely.

Under the program, employees were required to provide proof of registration for the courses, a tuition bill and a completion certificate. Court documents allege they used software provided by the company to submit tuition assistance requests that included that information as well as grade information.

Amounts allegedly stolen range from $11,880 to $55,056.