One of 20 former employees facing federal charges in an alleged scheme to defraud British defense contractor BAE Systems will plead guilty.
Latonya D. Smith agreed to plead guilty on Thursday to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne. Three other charges will be dropped, according to a plea agreement.
She agreed to cooperate with prosecutors on the other cases, which likely means testifying against the other defendants.
Smith worked at BAE, which has offices near Fort Wayne International Airport, from 2004 to 2016. She admitted to stealing $27,000 from the company through a tuition assistance program in 2013 that allowed for upfront payments to employees rather than reimbursement.
Smith filed four tuition requests, one each year from 2013 to 2016, court documents say. The plea agreement calls for her to pay back the money.
She faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
She is the first defendant to plead guilty in the case, which allegedly cost BAE more than $500,000.
The company provides parts to aircraft manufacturers including Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It changed its tuition assistance program in 2013 to allow up-front payments, and court documents say employees began filing requests and pocketing money almost immediately.
Andre J. Hollis submitted a request Jan. 3, 2013, and allegedly stole more than $55,000, an indictment says.
Amounts allegedly stolen range from $11,880 to $55,056.
Under the program, employees had to provide proof of registration for college courses, a tuition bill and a completion certificate. Each used software provided by the company to submit requests that included all of that information as well as grades, according to court documents.
Also charged with fraud 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, Stepahnie M. Dates, David P. Rinderle Jr., Nicholas A. Young, Amber N. Szajna, Tia N. Russell, Tonya L. Sterling, Marjorie R. Warfield, Therese B. Whitsett and Darlene V. Wilson.