FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Office of the United States Attorney
Western District of Louisiana
DONALD W. WASHINGTON
United States Attorney
United States Courthouse
800 Lafayette Street, Suite 2200
Lafayette, Louisiana 70501-7206
Mother/Daughter Team go to Jail for Embezzling Funds
Lafayette, Louisiana . . .Two women found guilty by a federal trial jury in October 2003, of 1 count of conspiracy and 14 counts of embezzling and failing to refund federal funds faced United States District Judge Richard T. Haik for sentencing today, announced U.S. Attorney Donald W. Washington and Patricia Van Gilder, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, Central Region.
PATRICIA FRASIER BEDFORD, age 56, from Canton, North Carolina and MELISSA BEDFORD BLALOCK, age 35, from Candler, North Carolina were each sentenced to 16 months imprisonment to be followed by 3 years supervised release, the maximum allowed by federal sentencing guidelines. The defendants were each ordered to pay $54,293 jointly and severally in restitution. The defendants were indicted in November 2001. A two and a half week trial by jury in October 2003, ended with the jury returning guilty verdicts on all counts.
U.S. Attorney Washington stated, "These defendants received long prison terms for stealing funds owed to young adults for their education. The U.S. Department of Education provides $63 billion a year of tax dollars to educate children and young adults. Anyone who steals these funds will be aggressively prosecuted and incarcerated for the longest period allowed by law."
Patricia Van Gilder, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, Central Region stated, "I am very pleased with the outcome of this investigation. I'm hopeful that the sentences will send a message that this type of fraud will not be tolerated."
PATRICIA BEDFORD owned and operated The Louisiana Training Center, Inc. (LTC), a privately owned for-profit school, which had two locations in Sulphur, Louisiana. The vocational-technical school offered cosmetology and health care courses. BEDFORD's daughter, MELISSA BEDFORD BLALOCK, was the Financial Aid Director and owned ten percent of LTC.
The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) is the federal agency that administers the programs that provide financial aid to qualified students for their post-secondary education. Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 provided federal financial aid for students enrolled at eligible post-secondary schools. BEDFORD, on behalf of LTC, entered into an agreement with the U.S. Secretary of Education on December 18, 1992, to participate in the Title IV programs.
All institutions participating in Title IV programs are required to have annual audits. However, LTC never did a compliance audit during the entire time they were operating. LTC ultimately lost its eligibility to participate in Title IV programs in 1997 and closed the school that same year.
Prior to closing the school, BEDFORD and BLALOCK received financial aid funds on behalf of certain students that exceeded the students' cost of attendance, which included tuition, books and lab fees. Federal law required that the defendants refund the excess balance to the student, which the defendants sometimes failed to do. The defendants failed to always do this. Further, several students receiving financial aid dropped out of the school before completing their course of study. The defendants had already received full payment from the U.S. Department of Education for the students' education. The defendants failed to refund the U.S. Department of Education, as required by law, any unused portion of the financial aid. The defendants embezzled and failed to refund at least $54,293.00.
Sentencing in federal court is governed by the United States Sentencing Guidelines established by the United States Congress and the United States Sentencing Commission. Parole has been abolished in the federal system.
This investigation was conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Todd S. Clemons.
For further information, please contact United States Attorney Donald W. Washington at 337-262-6618 or First Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Flanagan at 318-676-3600.
This and other press releases issued by the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Louisiana can be found at our website at www.usdoj.gov/usao/law.