Former Financial Aid Chief at Columbia Is Accused of Taking Kickbacks

Ms. Williams-Bethea had “personal, social relationships” with all three students, the complaint said. She and Ms. Kpana, for example, took a Caribbean cruise together in 2011 and also vacationed together in Hawaii, the Dominican Republic, New Orleans and Anguilla, the complaint said.

Ms. Williams-Bethea and each of the three students face conspiracy and bribery charges. Lawyers for the four defendants either declined to comment or could not be reached for comment.

Among the ways Ms. Williams-Bethea orchestrated the scheme, the complaint said, was by awarding aid to the students from a stipend fund that she controlled, or by “creating fraudulent stipend request forms, on which she forged the signatures of other administrators or faculty members who purportedly had requested that Kpana, Canty and Thomas receive stipends for their studies.”

The “alleged falsification of documents to show extreme financial hardship enabled the student defendants cumulatively to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars for which they did not qualify,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

The complaint said Ms. Williams-Bethea served as the financial aid director at Teachers College from 2005 through May of last year, when she was fired after the school discovered evidence of the unjustified financial aid payments.

The school, in a statement, said it acted last spring after irregularities were discovered in the disbursement of financial aid to several students.

“We immediately launched an internal investigation,” the school said, “which identified improper actions by a single staff member.” The school said it had reported its findings to federal and state authorities, and had been working closely with federal investigators “to uncover all the facts related to these improper actions.”

“We take the matter of fraud and the misappropriation of College funds very seriously, and remain deeply distressed over the betrayal of trust in…

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