Man pleads guilty to nearly $300,000 federal student aid fraud

Published: Apr. 22, 2022 at 1:06 PM EDT
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WECT) - A Jacksonville man pleaded guilty Thursday to using the identities of homeless people, drug addicts, and family members to fraudulently obtain nearly $300,000 in federal student aid funds.

According to court records, 47-year-old Duane Montrik Burton defrauded the U.S. Department of Education by claiming federal student aid in the names of 28 individuals that he had tricked into giving him their personal information.

The defendant exploited homeless people, trafficked drugs and took over a quarter of a million dollars intended to support education,” said Michael Easley, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “My office is working with law enforcement to uncover and stop those who traffic drugs, steal from taxpayers, and prey on the most vulnerable in our communities.”

Burton acquired personal information at homeless shelters by claiming he was collecting information for the census. He also trafficked illegal narcotics in exchange for names and personal information.

Additional case information revealed the following:

Burton submitted false information on the Free Application for Student Aid, commonly referred to as a FAFSA, provided fabricated documents and recruited others to take General Equivalency Exams and Placement tests for the named students.  Burton profited by obtaining the refunds issued by Cape Fear Community College to these straw students, which represented the difference between the costs of tuition and the student aid funds disbursed.

“Federal student aid exists so that individuals can make their dream of a higher education a reality. Ensuring those who steal student aid – through identity theft or any other means – are stopped and held accountable for their criminal actions is a big part of our mission,” said Terry Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Eastern Regional Office.

Burton could be sentenced to a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy charge; while, the aggravated identity theft charge is subject to a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.

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