The former president of Morris Brown College pleaded guilty Monday to embezzling millions of dollars in federal funds that were intended to cover student tuition.
Dolores Cross, 69, who was president of the college from November 1998 until February 2002, had been scheduled to go on trial Monday. In exchange for her plea, prosecutors moved to dismiss 27 other counts.
Cross resigned when allegations of mismanagement and fraud surfaced and Morris Brown lost its accreditation. Enrollment at the historically black Atlanta college plunged from 2,000 students to as low as 80.
Her attorney, Drew Findling, said Cross hoped that ending the prosecution would assist Morris Brown in regaining its accreditation.
“Dr. Cross hoped that her presidency would improve the school’s academic standing and build on the college’s tradition,” Findling said. “She is proud of the progress the college made during her presidency.”
Over $3 million in question
According to a December 2004 indictment, Cross and Parvesh Singh, the school’s former director of financial aid and enrollment services, fraudulently obtained $3.4 million in federally insured student loans and Pell grants, in part to cover a $3.3 million credit debt and school expenses.
Approximately $1 million of those funds has been repaid to the Department of Education, according to prosecutors.
Morris Brown never should have received the money, prosecutors said, because loans were applied for in the names of students who never attended the college, had already left or attended part-time.
Most of the ineligible students had no knowledge the loans had been applied for in their names, or that they would be expected to repay, court documents claim.
Federal prosecutor Lynn Adam said the students should be able to “straighten this out with the Department of Education” and their credit records should be cleared.
Prosecutors are recommending that Cross be sentenced to 10 to 16 months in prison. Had she gone to trial on the single count to which she pleaded guilty, she could have faced up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
Her attorneys indicated they would seek a lesser sentence because of an undisclosed medical condition. She will pay $11,000 in restitution.
Singh pleaded guilty last week to one count of theft of federal financial aid funds and had been expected to testify against Cross. Attorneys for Singh and Cross emphasized that neither defendant personally benefited from the stolen funds.