U.S. Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney's Office
Northern District of Texas
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Former Texas Tech Students Sentenced in Financial Aid Fraud Scheme
Two Texas Tech University students charged with federal offenses related to the theft of funds from the U.S. Department of Education's Pell Grant Program, administered and managed by Texas Tech University, were sentenced today in federal court in Lubbock, Texas, U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper announced today. The Honorable Sam R. Cummings, United States District Judge, sentenced Rojelio Hernandez, 27, from Corpus Christi, Texas, to 30 months imprisonment and ordered him to pay $122,751.00 in restitution. Judge Cummings also sentenced John Christian Tsyitee, 28, of Lubbock, to 180 days home confinement, five years probation, and ordered him to pay $14,043 in restitution. Judge Cummings ordered that Hernandez surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on May 12, 2006.
According to documents filed in Court, Hernandez admitted that from April 2000 to February 2004, while he was a student at Texas Tech and working in the university's student aid office, he caused the signing and submitting to the U.S. Department of Education Free Applications for Federal Student Aid on behalf of students at Texas Tech. Hernandez used false financial income information to qualify the students to receive Federal Pell Grant funds when he well knew that the income stated on the applications was false and that the students did not qualify for the funds. The Federal Pell Grant Program provides funds to assist students who are eligible for the program and who need those funds to meet the costs of a post secondary education. The grants are considered financial assistance to students who have serious financial needs and require financial aid in order to be able to attend college and do not have to be repaid by the student recipient.
Rojelio Hernandez assisted students whose name and social security numbers were brought to him by one of four individuals, Dorman "Dodd" Hawley, Vincente Garcia Martinez, John Christian Tsyitee, and Gabriela Vazquez, who served as "go betweens," serving as intermediaries between Hernandez and the Texas Tech students they recruited. Hernandez and/or the intermediaries obtained the necessary information from the students, such as each student's name, date of birth, social security number, and other data required to file the false applications for financial aid. The students were told that once the applications were processed, they would receive a check in the mail which they were to cash immediately. Hernandez and/or the intermediaries further instructed the students that they would have to split the money with Hernandez and the intermediaries.
The "go-betweens" were charged with their role in the scheme and have been sentenced. In addition to Tsyitee who was sentenced today, defendant Vincente Garcia Martinez, 27, of Lubbock, Texas, and Gabriela Melissa Vazquez, 25, of Dallas, Texas, were each sentenced last month to 180 days of home confinement and five years probation. Martinez was also ordered to pay $26,910.00 in restitution and Vazquez was also ordered to pay $29,098.00 in restitution. Dorman "Dodd" Hawley is deceased.
Hernandez completed, signed, and submitted approximately 31 fraudulent signature pages on the grant applications. Even after he left employment in the financial aid office, he continued to remotely access the university's computer system to continue the scheme. He altered or removed verification for approximately 26 students. In total, Hernandez falsely qualified approximately 33 students as eligible to receive Federal Pell Grants. The students paid half of the money they received to the "go-betweens," who in turn delivered the remainder to Hernandez. Hernandez retained approximately $72,525.00 from the scheme for personal use. The total amount of this part of the scheme is approximately $200,000.
While the investigation continues, the following defendants have pled guilty to their role in the scheme and have been sentenced:
- Nathaniel Beckman, 26 three years probation, $7,161.88 restitution Garland, Texas $1588.12 cost of prosecution
- Bryan Lee Hudspeth, 26 two years probation, $3,300.00 restitution Plano, Texas
- Abby Leann Mathison, 27 one year probation Lubbock, Texas
- John Andrew Moretti, 25 two years probation, $4,775.00 restitution Lubbock, Texas $1,825 cost of prosecution
- James Wesley Sitz, 25 three years probation, $6,035.00 restitution Las Vegas, Nevada
- Justin Wayne Sitz, 25 three years probation, $6,375.00 restitution Austin, Texas
Other defendants have been indicted in the scheme. On March 22, 2006, a federal grand jury in Lubbock returned a 22-count indictment charging former Texas Tech University students Jessica Ann Back, 26, of Grapevine, Texas; Jacob Edmond Lustgarten, 25, of Austin, Texas; and Amanda Jayne Sheils, 25 of Colleyville, Texas, with various offenses for their role in the scheme. The indictment alleges they submitted fraudulent applications for Federal Pell Grants and fraudulently and falsely received Federal Pell Grant funds for which they did not qualify.
U.S. Attorney Roper praised the investigative efforts of the Department of Education - Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Paulina M. Jacobo.