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Investigation Report

NEWS RELEASE André Birotte Jr
United States Attorney
Central District of California
For Immediate Distribution
March 22, 2011
Thom Mrozek, Public Affairs Officer
(213) 894-6947

Former Employee of Compton Community College Charged with Stealing Federal Student Aid Money

LOS ANGELES – A former financial aid officer at Compton Community College has been indicted on federal charges related to a scheme that sought financial aid for "students" who did not attend classes at the school and led to losses of more than $50,000.

Millicent Cook, 46, of Paramount, was arrested by federal authorities on March 11 after being indicted on four counts of theft of student assistance funds.

A second person named in the indictment – Gwendolyn Renae Harris, 39, of Long Beach, who did not work at the school – surrendered yesterday to federal authorities.

An indictment returned by a federal grand jury on February 25 alleges that Cook and Harris applied for Pell Grants, a form of federal financial aid, using the names and social security numbers of "students" they recruited to help them in the scheme. The recruits never attended classes at Compton Community College and, therefore, were not entitled to receive the Pell Grants. Once the Pell Grants were funded, Cook and Harris supplied a portion of the money to the "students" and then used the rest of the money for their own personal expenses.

The scheme allegedly ran from early 2003 to late 2006, when it was discovered during an audit of the community college. Investigators currently estimate that the scheme caused losses of $56,064 to the U.S. Department of Education.

After surrendering yesterday, Harris was freed on a $5,000 bond. After Cook was arrested on March 11, she was freed on a $5,000 bond. Both defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges in the indictment.

Cook and Harris are currently scheduled to go to trial in May.

The charge of theft of student assistance funds carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

This investigation was conducted by the U.S. Department of Education - Office of Inspector General.

CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Ryan White
(213) 894-2296

Release No. 11-041

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Last Modified: 03/24/2011