California Trucking School Charged in $4.3 Million VA Fraud
Surely former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw had no way of knowing that a California truck driver training school he was featuring on his TV “news program” in 2014 was at the same time being investigated for bilking the Veterans Administration out of millions of dollars for students that never even intended to show up for classes.
Terry Bradshaw in trucking school video. (Alliance School of Trucking via YouTube)
“Please join me as I leave the field for the board room in search of the best and brightest people willing to share their viewpoints,” Bradshaw boasted on his five-minute broadcast “Viewpoints with Terry Bradshaw.” Bradshaw was paid to promote the Chatsworth, Calif.-based Alliance School of Trucking in a positive light on his program.
A few years later, those same school operators and nearly three dozen veterans claiming to be students have been charged in a sweeping California felony criminal complaint calling for their arrest in connection with a $4.3 million fraudulent scheme.
The criminal complaint, announced April 4 by California’s attorney general, said that for four years the school’s operators recruited veterans to enroll for truck driver training on paper with the sole intent of being awarded tuition, housing allowances and fees without even stepping foot in a classroom.
For their part, the students would receive from $2,000 to $3,000 in housing allowance while the school would get the bulk of the VA tuition funding. The students collectively were paid nearly $2 million of the $4.3 million alleged fraud, according to the complaint.
While the operators were seen bragging about their school in Bradshaw’s “Viewpoints” broadcast still on the school’s website, a man answering the phone said that he could not comment.
However, on the video, school owner Emmit Marshall said he founded the school in 2007 after receiving his commercial driver license. He said he was so disturbed by lack of attention he got as a student, he immediately changed his business plans and started his own school.
“After the economy collapsed, I found myself in a very unique position training CPAs, stock brokers, real estate brokers and veterans coming home,” Marshall said in the video. “That experience is what helped define us as a company and helped shape our niche.”
Waggoner, also charged in the California attorney general's fraud complaint. (Alliance School of Trucking via YouTube)
But prosecutors alleged that at some point the school concocted a scheme that included creating fraudulent student files that contained false and misleading information, false attendance records, false grades and false certificates of course completion for the purported students.
To further the conspiracy, the school’s website pictured students smiling proudly while displaying their phony completion certificates.
The complaint specifically alleges that the school’s five operators and the students received VA funding from 2011 to 2015 for each individual veteran despite the fact that the students never attended or completed classes that were advertised as a pathway to a CDL and lucrative career as a truck driver.
The complaint said that the operators of the school face charges of grand theft, identify theft, forgery, making false and fraudulent claims and preparing false evidence.
The school received funding from the VA for veterans eligible for non-college degree programs under the post-9/11 GI bill. The purported classes offered ranged from 240 hours of training in Class A tractor, trailer and safety to a 600-hour Select Driver Development Program.
The complaint said that the operators of the school, located in suburban Los Angeles, face charges of grand theft, identify theft, forgery, making false and fraudulent claims and preparing false evidence.
The operators charged are Marshall, 51; Robert Waggoner, 55, a director of the school; Aaron Solomona, 34, who recruited veterans for the school; Sandor Greene, 61, who allegedly created fraudulent student files; and another employee, Ivanova Aracely Jimenez, 46.
After this story was published online, Greene called a reporter at Transport Topics on April 16, saying while he worked as a driver trainer at Alliance from 2012-2016, he had no knowledge of any fraudulent activities at the school.
“I’m a trainer. I have nothing to do with any of this stuff,” he said. “I didn’t do paperwork. I just trained people when they came in.”
Greene added, “I probably trained 60 to 65% of the students who came to the school. Every one of them got a CDL.”
But even before the California charges this month, Marshall and Waggoner were named in a separate federal wire fraud indictment last year but released on a $50,000 bond. The federal case has been delayed twice and now is set for trial in September.
Sandor Greene, who allegedly created fraudulent student files. (Alliance School of Trucking via YouTube)
“The VA offers generous benefits to veterans who have put their lives on the line to safeguard America,” Sandra Brown, acting U.S. attorney Central District of California, said in a statement about the 2017 federal charges. “Fraud schemes, particularly those involving schooling for veterans, compromise the system designed to help veterans after they complete their service.”
Don Lefeve, president of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association, which represents nearly 200 training providers in 42 states, said scams such as the one outlined in the California charges require a high degree of sophistication to pull off.
“Before being able to attend and use GI Bill benefits at a postsecondary institution, an institution must first apply and be approved by the state approving agency in the state where the institution resides,” Lefeve told Transport Topics. “There are strict requirements for approval, and the SAAs do a good and thorough job of auditing programs.”