Three Nigerians were sentenced to two years in state prison Wednesday for fraudulently obtaining what authorities said was at least $30,000 in student loans at Ventura County community colleges.
Authorities said they appeared to have worked the scheme at a number of schools.
The men pleaded guilty after being accused of filing 12 applications for federally guaranteed student loans this year at Moorpark, Ventura and Oxnard junior colleges. They used false names, driver's licenses and Social Security numbers and other false information, Ventura County Deputy Dist. Atty. Matthew Hardy said.
Hardy said the men had enrolled at Moorpark College but apparently didn't attend class. They had expired student visas, he said.
Hardy said an investigation by sheriff's detectives revealed that colleges nationwide have suffered similar abuses--and that the California community college system is a prime target because of lax procedures in reviewing loans.
He said the three could easily have walked away with the money had it not been for an alert student loan officer. They never received any money, however.
Hardy said there are indications, such as loan application forms, that the three had applied for loans, or intended to, at other colleges, including Biola University in La Mirada, two colleges in Santa Barbara County, one unidentified Los Angeles community college and the University of California, Berkeley.
Hardy said the men listed several addresses in the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County where mail concerning the loans was to be sent.
'Slap to Generous System'
"This was an arrogant, insulting slap in the face to a system that has been incredibly generous," Hardy said.
Authorities are not certain of the identities of the men because of the dozens of false identification papers found when they were arrested in March. Hardy said they gave the names of Michael Oluwole, 26, of Los Angeles; Uko Johnson Abia, 26, of Miami, and Augustine Rotibi, 29, of Rowland Heights.
Each pleaded guilty to one felony count of using false information to obtain a loan, and each was sentenced to two years in state prison by Ventura County Superior Court Judge Steve Perren.
Hardy said the men began applying for the guaranteed loans at the three Ventura colleges in January, filing at least 12 applications for $2,500 each, all with false names.
The men pleaded guilty to one count each. Hardy said it would have been difficult to prove that each knew about all 12 transactions.
The information given for the loans was not closely checked, Hardy said. He said the men were caught only because a loan officer who worked at both Moorpark and Oxnard colleges noticed similarities in names and other information on the applications. The loan officer notified authorities.
Ventura County sheriff's deputies arrested the men on March 18 when they attempted to pick up a loan check at Moorpark College. Investigators found evidence in the men's car indicating that they may have applied for eight other loans at the schools.
"This was a very sophisticated operation," Hardy said.
Detectives learned that the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the federal Department of Education were aware of similar schemes around the country, Hardy said. The three men apparently had been taught the fraud by other Nigerians, he said.
The men are not U.S. citizens, Hardy said, and they could face deportation after they are released from prison.