A 53-year-old financial services manager at an unnamed local institution of higher learning and eight co-conspirators are looking at two decades in federal prison for allegedly embezzling “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in financial aid.
The five have been indicted by a federal grand jury with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 22 counts of wire fraud. Andrea Mitchell, the alleged ringleader, is also accused with committing aggravated identity theft, according to a statement.
If convicted, the nine would face up to 20 years in prison, with Mitchell facing two more years for the bonus charges.
In addition to Mitchell Tampa, those charged include:
- Lester Best, 54, of Tampa
- Gloria Gutierrez, 51, of Lakeland
- Sylvester Robinson, 57, of Temple Terrace
- Neukenya Jokines, 52, of Riverview
- Kinya Lillie, 52, of Tampa
- Jewel Jordan, 52, of Brandon
- Andre Wright, 54, of Hinesville, Georgia
- Rozaundra Lillie, 53, of Tampa
According to the indictment, Mitchell in her position at the school was responsible for, among other duties, student billing and student refund management.
The school was not named in the indictment, with the grand jury referring to it only as the Higher Education Institution and saying it “awarded associate degrees, certificates and diplomas.”
The school hired Mitchell in November 2013. Between then and 2019, the indictment alleges she would use current and former students’ personal information to create “false and fraudulent checks.” According to the indictment she used the identity of hundreds of students.
Mitchell pulled this off by accessing student sponsorship bank accounts set up by the school’s tuition management programs and the college savings programs to be distributed to students when they needed money for tuition, books or other school necessities.
She would also aggregate balances to make it look as if the student sponsorship accounts had the funds to cover the fraudulent checks.
The names on the checks were then changed to match those of the co-conspirators, who had been recruited by Best.
Best, according to the indictment, would often drive the others around to banks and ATMs to cash or deposit the checks. Afterward, they “would and did give most or all of the fraud proceeds from the checks to Best.” He would then pay them from the money that had been collected.
The indictment lists 23 transactions ranging from $3,314.96 to $22,986.
According to the federal court system’s online case management system, the grand jury issued its indictment Nov. 29 and Mitchell was arrested Dec. 8.