Columbia University exec charged in financial aid kickback scheme

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The former head of financial aid at Columbia University's Teachers College who was arrested on conspiracy and bribery charges has been released on $50,000 bail.

Melanie Williams-Bethea appeared in Manhattan federal court Thursday after authorities charged her with making over $350,000 illegally.

The government said Melanie Williams-Bethea, 47, of Springfield Gardens, Queens, the aid director, approved millions in phony assistance over 10 years to friends Annice Kpana, 35, of Valley Stream, and two SC women, dispensing thousands during years when they weren't even attending classes.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman says the defendants falsified documents to make it seem they were destitute.

The school says it unearthed the scam last spring and alerted investigators.

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The discrepancies were discovered when the financial aid department was reviewing their financial aid disbursements last spring. "We immediately launched an internal investigation, which identified improper actions by a single staff member", he said. Gardner says the school is deeply distressed over the betrayal of trust. Three students, Annice Kpana, Carmen Canty and Kyla Thomas, were also arrested on bribery, conspiracy and fraud charges.

The complaint alleges that Williams-Bethea funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the three students between 2013 and 2017, inflating their cost-of-attendance figures on forms in years where they weren't enrolled in any courses so they could obtain large stipends.

She kicked back almost $300,000 of the $600,000 in stipends she received between 2011 and 2017 to Williams-Bethea, according to the charges.

A former financial aid director at Columbia University has been charged with a slew of financial crimes after allegedly using funds earmarked as stipends to line her pockets. All four were cuffed Thursday.

In a criminal complaint, authorities said Williams-Bethea worked as director of financial aid at one of the university's graduate schools while carrying out the scam from 2008 to 2017. She also created fraudulent requests for stipends for the students supposedly from professors or other administrators at the school.

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