VA official and for-profit school employees found guilty in $2 million bribery scheme

Kaylah Jackson
February 13, 2019 - 11:23 am

(ID 96619164 © Julia Sudnitskaya | Dreamstime.com)

Three individuals associated with for-profit, non-accredited schools have been sentenced to almost 10 years in prison for bribing a Veterans Affairs official in exchange for over $2 million.

Albert Poawui, of Maryland, was the owner of Atius Technology Institute. Sombo Kanneh, of Virginia, worked at Atius Technology. Michelle Stevens owned Eelon Training Academy, a school claiming to specialize in digital media classes.

According to the Department of Justice, Poawui made an agreement with a VA official, James King, where Poawui would pay King a seven percent cash kickback of all payments made by the VA to Atius Technology. King would then convince veterans in the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program to take classes at Atius, even after repeated complaints about the school’s poor education surfaced.

Poawui, King, and other’s involved were able to convince the VA to pay Atius Technology approximately $2,217,259.44 between August 2015 and December 2017. In exchange, King received over $155,000 in hand-delivered payments.

Related: Man pleads guilty to bribery con involved VA program for disabled veterans

The scam didn't end there. Michelle Stevens, of Maryland, learned about VR&E from King and then created Eelon Training Academy. Just like he did with Atius Technology, he steered disabled veterans he counseled into studying at Eelon. Stevens received approximately $83,000 in total from the VA for the education she alleged to provide to veteran students.

All of the individuals involved are now paying the price. Albert Poawui was sentenced to serve 70 months in prison and ordered to pay $1.5 million back to the VA. Sombo Kanneh was sentenced to 20 months in prison, ordered to pay $113,227.30 in restitution to the VA and forfeit $1.5 million. Michelle Stevens was sentenced to serve 30 months in prison and ordered to reimburse the VA $83,000.

James King, who was bribed by all three defendants plead guilty to bribery, wire fraud, and falsification of documents and will be sentenced on February 15.

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