The Journal Gazette
Friday, June 22, 2018 1:00 am

10th ex-BAE employee pleads guilty

One of 31 who have been charged in tuition scheme

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Tonya L. Sterling on Thursday joined three former co-workers who admitted this week to stealing from a Fort Wayne defense contractor through a tuition assistance program.

Sterling pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne to one count of wire fraud. She pocketed $28,314 through the program, and a plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne calls for her to pay back the money to BAE Systems.

Prosecutors agreed to drop four other wire fraud charges in exchange for the guilty plea.

Court documents allege Sterling and 30 other BAE workers stole nearly $800,000 through the program, which was changed in 2013 to allow upfront payments to employees who signed up for college classes. BAE, a subsidiary of a British defense contractor with offices near Fort Wayne International Airport, launched an investigation after an employee alerted company officials to the alleged scheme in 2016.

The FBI took over the investigation, and prosecutors filed the first charges in December.

Workers used software to submit requests for tuition assistance to company servers in New Hampshire, according to court documents. They used the same software to get required documents including proof of registration, grade information and a completion certificate, prosecutors have said.

A four-page indictment returned in February said Sterling submitted five requests for reimbursement in 2015 and 2016. She filed paperwork June 6 to plead guilty.

Ten former employees have pleaded guilty to wire fraud. Another – Jessica L. Shutt – is scheduled to plead guilty today.

Damon E. Bryant, Amber N. Szajna and Marjorie R. Warfield entered guilty pleas this week.

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