The United States has filed a civil complaint against a Moss Point barber school for allegedly defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Post-9/11 GI Bill education assistance program.
The U.S. is seeking treble damages and penalties against April Tucker Beard and her barber school, April’s Mane Attraction (AMA), Inc., Academy, after she unlawfully received VA education assistance funds totaling $235,734.
As part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, the VA provides tuition and fee payments directly to qualifying schools, including non-degree schools such as AMA Academy, on behalf of eligible veterans.
To qualify as an institution eligible to receive VA education assistance funds, the school must submit a written application with supporting documents to the State’s Approving Agency. Beard and AMA Academy received such approval in May 2017.
After that, the school’s certifying official must submit separate enrollment certifications for each enrolled veteran certifying the course in which the veteran is being enrolled, the start and end dates of the enrollment period, the number of hours per week the veteran will attend class, and the cost of tuition and fees for the course.
In addition, the school certifies that it will comply with all program requirements under Title 38, which includes charging comparable tuition for VA and non-VA students.
Requiring consistent and comparable tuition ensures that the VA is paying fair market value tuition rates and also provides protection for the government so that it is not funding education for non-VA students.
The U.S. alleges in its complaint that from July 2017 to November 2019, Beard and AMA Academy made or caused to be made false statements to the VA regarding veteran students’ enrollment in her barber training program to obtain VA funding.
It also states that Beard and her school charged inflated tuition and fees for VA students in the amount of $22,400 as compared to $50 each week or $2,400 for non-VA students.
The suit accuses Beard of not maintaining accurate attendance records, not maintaining complete and accurate payment ledgers, and not providing course instruction and certificates of completion to VA students in accordance with program rules and as she certified in application and enrollment documents submitted to the VA.
“The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides important educational and training opportunities to our nation’s veterans, which we must protect from fraud, waste, and abuse,” Todd W. Gee, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said. “This office will continue to help safeguard the integrity of VA programs intended to benefit those who serve our nation.”
This investigation was the result of a dedicated and coordinated effort from the VA OIG, the Veterans Benefits Administration, Education Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, SDMS.