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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 05, 2018 5:50 pm

Tuition-fraud trials to begin next month

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Trials are set to begin next month for employees of a British defense contractor with operations in Fort Wayne who are accused of bilking the company out of more than $500,000. 

Twenty people face federal charges for allegedly defrauding BAE Systems through a tuition assistance program from January 2013 to April 2016. 

Judges set trial dates for 15 of the employees for April and May. Five appeared before a judge for the first time on Monday in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne. 

Court documents say the workers signed up for classes through the program, which the company changed in 2013 to allow for up-front payments instead of reimbursements. Employees pocketed the money – more than $55,000 for one man – and never took the classes, according to indictments. 

Charged with fraud are Andre J. Hollis, 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, Amber N. Szajna, Tia N. Russell, Tonya L. Sterling, Marjorie R. Warfield, Therese B. Whitsett and Darlene V. Wilson. 

Russell and Whitsett were in court Monday for initial appearances, and detention hearings were held for Warfield and Wilson. Sterling was arraigned and pleaded not guilty. 

BAE provides parts for aircraft manufacturers and runs a facility near Fort Wayne International Airport. 

Employees were required under the program to provide proof of registration for the courses, a tuition bill and a completion certificate. Using software provided by the company, workers submitted tuition requests that included that information as well as grade information, indictments allege. 

Nine trials are set for April and six are set for May. A pretrial conference is scheduled for March 19 for Smith. 

mleblanc@jg.net