Five people accused of bilking a defense contractor with offices in Fort Wayne out of more than $100,000 pleaded not guilty Wednesday in federal court to charges of wire fraud.
Another woman charged in the alleged scheme, Tia N. Russell, filed paperwork admitting she stole nearly $12,000 from BAE Systems through a tuition assistance program that provided upfront payments to employees.
Aaron L. Boone, Denaryl K. Mojet, Cynequa M. Relue, Richard A. Relue Jr. and Jessica L. Shutt were arraigned Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne. Together, they stole more than $114,000, court documents allege.
Each entered pleas of not guilty.
Russell was indicted in February on two counts of wire fraud. A plea agreement calls for her to plead guilty to one count and pay back $11,880.
At least 31 BAE employees allegedly took part in the scheme, which involved submitting requests for tuition money, pocketing the payments and never taking classes.
The company, which has offices near Fort Wayne International Airport, changed a program in 2013 to allow for upfront tuition payments.
Employees almost immediately began pocketing money from the program, according to court documents. Workers stole nearly $770,000, prosecutors have said.
Individual amounts allegedly stolen range from $6,750 to $55,056.
A plea hearing for Robin C. Opper, who is accused of stealing $37,500 for himself and helping others net more than $500,000, had been scheduled for Wednesday. He has agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud, pay back the money he allegedly stole and help pay back – along with 21 others identified only by their initials in court documents – about $529,000.
The hearing was rescheduled for Monday.
Under the program, workers used proprietary software from BAE to submit requests to company servers in New Hampshire for tuition money. The software was used to get required information, including proof of attendance and a completion certificate, court documents say.
Three employees have pleaded guilty. Each faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000, but plea agreements call for much lighter sentences.
In court Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Speith said defendants could testify against others charged in the case.
“Some of these defendants have information that is relevant to other defendants,” she said.