Jacqualyn Sue Caldwell, 55, of Baltimore, and Jesse Raymond Moore Sr., 30, of Crofton, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to conspiring to defraud a student financial aid program.
The guilty pleas were announced by U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and various law enforcement agencies.
“Students without high school diplomas who applied for financial aid to attend trade schools were required to pass the Ability to Benefit test and demonstrate their aptitude to complete the educational program and work in the field,” said Rosenstein. “By cheating, the defendants defeated the purpose of the tests and defrauded the government.”
Caldwell was a test administrator for a company that offered cognitive tests to schools and businesses. During her employment, Caldwell worked almost exclusively as a test proctor for student admissions at the All-State Career School, a for-profit trade school located on Broening Highway in Baltimore. Moore worked as an admissions representative for All-State. Moore was paid a salary and was eligible for performance-based raises and commissions for each student that graduated.
Students who applied for federal financial aid at All-State were required to have a high school diploma, possess a GED, or pass a designated Ability to Benefit (ATB) test. Caldwell was certified to administer the ATB test onsite at All-State’s campus. Her duties did not include scoring the tests; rather, she was to collect the students’ answer sheets, seal them in an envelope and mail them to her company employer’s headquarters in Illinois, where they were scored and the results sent back to All-State. The ATB test used a Scan Tron answer sheet that required students to use pencils to fill in circles next to the correct answers. Student applicants who failed the ATB test the first time could take it again.
According to Caldwell’s plea agreement, soon after starting her job as a test proctor at All-State in 2008, an All-State admissions representative asked Caldwell for an applicant’s answer sheet so that the representative could change some of the applicant’s answers to allow the applicant to pass the test.
Caldwell allowed the representative access to the answer sheet by not sealing the envelope containing the applicants’ answer sheets and leaving the envelope on the receptionist’s desk. After the admissions representative corrected the applicant’s wrong answers, the representative put the answer sheet back into the envelope, sealed it and left it to be mailed. Thereafter, this process was repeated by the representative for other applicants. Caldwell also agreed to employ the same process for a second representative.
Subsequently, the second representative suggested a different method to change the answers on the ATB test which Caldwell agreed to do. The representative gave Caldwell a completed Scan Tron answer sheet which allowed Caldwell to erase and change just enough incorrect answers to provide a passing grade. The representative told Caldwell which student applicants were taking the test for a second time, so that Caldwell could correct their answer sheets.
Although the first two representatives agreed not to tell anyone that Caldwell was changing test scores for their student applicants, a third admissions representative asked Caldwell to change scores on answer sheets, which Caldwell agreed to do. Thereafter, Caldwell was continuously approached in the hallways by the three admissions representatives about “helping” a student pass the ATB test on the second try, and Caldwell agreed to do it every time.
According to Moore’s plea agreement, Moore learned through another admissions representative that Caldwell could ensure that students who failed the ATB the first time would pass it the second time. Between January and December 2011, Caldwell agreed to Moore’s requests to help prospective students pass the test the second time.
Additionally, All-State admissions representative Barry Sugarman, 63, of Owings Mills, pleaded guilty on March 13, 2013 to the conspiracy. Sugarman admitted that he also asked Caldwell to manipulate the test results to give applicants taking the test a second time a passing score, which she did. Sugarman also told prospective students to understate their income from previous years when they applied for federal aid in order to qualify for the maximum amount of Pell grants and student loans.
During her tenure at All-State from 2008 to December 2011, Caldwell changed the answer sheets for approximately 170 students. Approximately 102 of them went on to enroll at All-State and became eligible to receive federal financial aid in the form of Pell Grants and student loans. Approximately 72 of those students received financial aid totaling approximately $572,255.
Caldwell, who pleaded guilty to a felony, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or not more than the greater of twice the pecuniary loss or gain from the fraud. Moore and Sugarman, who each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, face a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
U.S. District Judge George L. Russell, III scheduled sentencing for Caldwell in federal court in Baltimore on February 14, 2014 at 9:30 a.m. U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Sullivan scheduled sentencing for Sugarman and Moore in federal court in Greenbelt on December 18, 2013 and January 28, 2014, respectively.