An employee of a Fort Wayne defense contractor showed co-workers how to steal from the company through a tuition assistance program, court documents say.
Robin C. Opper submitted fraudulent claims for tuition reimbursement for himself and helped others take advantage of the scheme, which netted more than $500,000 for the employees he assisted, according to charging documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne.
Opper is charged with one count of wire fraud for allegedly pocketing $37,500.
Thirty-one employees of BAE Systems – including six this week – are charged with stealing from the company. Earlier findings say employees took advantage of the program through which up-front payments were provided to workers from 2013 to 2016, but Opper's is the first to indicate they defrauded the company with help from a co-worker.
It is not clear how many employees Opper allegedly helped, but a plea agreement calls for him and 21 workers identified by their initials to pay back $529,118.50. Opper will also pay back the money he allegedly stole for himself, according to the agreement.
BAE has offices near Fort Wayne International Airport and is a subsidiary of a British defense contractor. In 2013, it changed the company's tuition assistance program to allow for upfront payments.
Employees soon began filing tuition requests and pocketed more than $767,000, court documents allege. Amounts stolen by individual employees range from $6,750 to $55,056, prosecutors say.
Opper, Aaron L. Boone, Denaryl K. Mojet, Jessica L. Shutt, Richard A. Relue Jr. and Cynequa M. Relue – also known as Cynequa M. Warfield – were charged with wire fraud this week. Together, they allegedly stole $114,003.
Under the program, workers were required to submit documentation including proof of registration, a tuition bill, a completion certificate and grades. Employees allegedly used proprietary software from BAE to submit information to servers in New Hampshire to secure all of that information.
The first charges in the case were filed in December, court records show, and the list of employees implicated in the scheme has continued to grow.
Latonya D. Smith was the first to plead guilty April 6. David P. Rinderle Jr and Brian R. Dunbar also have admitted to stealing from the company.
A sentencing hearing for Smith is scheduled for Aug. 29. Hearings for Rinderle and Dunbar have not been scheduled.
Each person charged faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000, but plea agreements filed for some defendants call for much lighter sentences. The agreements call for them to cooperate with investigations, which could mean testifying against others charged.
Also charged: Demarcus L. Benson, Tennille M. Bright, Keyana S. Brooks, Damon E. Bryant, Jason C. Butz, Stephanie M. Dates, Aleece A. Good, Andre J. Hollis, Calvin J. Howell, Shynell E. Hutchins, Dawaun A. Jackson, Frank J. Martin III, Leamon D. Perry, Tia N. Russell, Tonya L. Sterling, Amber N. Szajna, Detrick D. Tubbs, Terrell D. Ward-Thomas, Marjorie R. Warfield, Therese B. Whitsett, Darlene V. Wilson and Nicholas A. Young.