Federal Lawsuit Accuses For-Profit Schools of Fraud

By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

LINWOOD, N.J. — It was the electronic monitor around a student’s ankle that first gave Kelli J. Amaya serious doubts about the Harris School of Business.

The young man with the monitor was studying to be a pharmacy technician, and Ms. Amaya, who worked at Harris, a for-profit chain of trade schools, knew that the most widely recognized certification for pharmacy technicians excludes anyone convicted of a felony or even a low-level drug offense.

But the student received federal financial aid, and for the school to keep collecting it, he had to remain in the program and complete an internship. So Ms. Amaya said she was told to find him an internship, even if that meant deceiving the employer.

“I saw students who never should have been there, students with whopping gaps in learning abilities and major psychiatric problems who were just not capable of doing the work,” said Ms. Amaya, an administrator at Harris’s Linwood campus, and then at its Wilmington, Del., campus, from 2009 to 2011. “The bosses were always like, ‘Stop asking why they’re enrolled, just get them to graduation however you can.’ ”

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In a separate case in New Jersey, dozens of former Harris students say that the school lied about what professional certifications they would qualify for after completing their courses; some were given a brochure saying they could sit for a dental assistant certification exam — an exam that had not been offered for years. Premier settled a similar case a few years ago before it went to trial.

The former employees’ federal suit also charges that the school enrolled people who should not have been in its programs — like a student enrolled for massage therapy, though he had been convicted of a sex crime, which would prevent him from being licensed. They say the schools enrolled students who had not graduated from high school, though their programs required it, including some who presented diplomas from known fraudulent “diploma mills.”

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