COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A Pickerington couple has been sentenced for conspiring to defraud multiple federal programs by committing student-aid fraud, tax-return fraud, and Medicaid and SNAP fraud. They caused a total loss of more than $500,000.
Damien M. Johnson, 40, was sentenced to 51 months in prison and was ordered to pay $219,976 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Education, $149,824 to the IRS and $87,404 to the Fairfield County Department of Job and Family Services on one count of conspiracy to commit student loan fraud and theft of government funds, and $73,120 to an individual victim on one count of bank fraud.
On March 5, 2020, Kisha C. Hollins-Johnson, 42, was sentenced to 28 months in prison, three years of supervised release, of which 12 months is to be served in home confinement, and was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $219,976 to the U.S. Department of Education, $149,824 to the IRS and $87,404 to the Fairfield County Department of Job and Family Services on one count of conspiring to commit student loan fraud and theft of government funds, one count of committing student loan fraud, one count of making a false statement to HUD, one count of witness tampering and two counts of theft of government money.
According to court documents, from at least 2011 through 2017, the defendants recruited more than five people to provide their personal information to apply for college admissions at Columbus State Community College.
All of the students fraudulently enrolled in online classes at the college. Hollins-Johnson submitted false financial aid forms for the students and completed coursework for all of the students. Hollins-Johnson enrolled the students in the same courses and chose the same or similar topics for their papers.
When Johnson was not making satisfactory academic progress, Hollins-Johnson created fake documents, including medical records, for use in an academic appeals process in order for Johnson to remain eligible to receive financial aid. She fabricated a letter purporting to be from a doctor that claimed Johnson had sickle cell anemia. The doctor did not write the note, and in fact was a gynecologist.
In total, the U.S. Department of Education issued nearly $220,000 to Columbus State and as refunds to the defendants. Any amount of student loan above the cost of tuition and fees was given to the defendants.
Johnson also committed bank fraud by obtaining seven checks totaling at least $73,000 from an 87-year-old victim who had dementia. He met the victim going door-to-door, making sales pitches to get customers to switch their energy supplier to his employer. He called the victim’s bank, impersonating the victim, to request transfers of funds. Johnson used the money on a variety of personal transactions, including $7,150 at a pawnshop, $1,798 at Gucci, $1,558 at Louis Vuitton, $1,182 in payments to vehicle dealers and $2,500 at a law firm.
Hollins-Johnson submitted false tax returns by claiming fake defendants and educational credits, and submitting fictitious W-2s. Johnson contacted the IRS pretending to be at least one of the other taxpayers and delivered portions of the tax refunds to other individuals.
The couple also fraudulently obtained SNAP food stamp benefits by claiming they were each single when they were married. As part of the conspiracy, Hollins-Johnson submitted false letters verifying Johnson’s employment for food stamp eligibility.
In 2014, Hollins-Johnson submitted an application for a $200,000 home loan insured by the FHA. When she submitted the loan application, she used fabricated employment documents that stated she worked for the State of Ohio. Additionally, she fabricated a form the mortgage company sent to a person they believed was a Human Relations Manager to verify employment.
After investigators searched the defendants’ residence, they engaged in witness tampering. Hollins-Johnson engaged in a scheme that involved creating a fake Facebook account in the victim’s name. The scheme also involved using an app that allows users to change their caller ID and apply a voice changer feature to call a witness in the case, pretending to be from the Licking County Clerk of Courts. Johnson set up an in-person meeting with the witness, where Hollins-Johnson instructed the witness not to talk with law enforcement.