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The owner of a California trucking school has pleaded guilty to swindling the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs out of more than $4 million in tuition and other payments after falsely certifying that hundreds of veterans had attended classes they never took, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced July 29.
Emmit Marshall, 52, owner and president of Chatsworth, Calif.-based Alliance School of Trucking, pleaded guilty to five felony counts of wire fraud. Prosecutors said he faces up to 20 years in prison and will be required to pay $4.3 million in restitution.
Marshall is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 18.
He admitted in his plea agreement that from July 2011 until April 2015, he and co-defendant Robert Waggoner, 56, a director at the school, conspired to defraud the government by recruiting eligible veterans to take noncollege truck driving classes with tuition, fees, books and supplies, and housing costs paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Waggoner, who has pleaded not guilty, is set for trial in February. However, this past April, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was scheduled for surgery and to begin chemotherapy in June, according to court records.
Ironically, the school was featured in a 2014 laudatory television “news program” hosted by former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who surely had no way of knowing what was transpiring at Alliance. On the video broadcast, Marshall said he founded the school in 2007 after receiving his commercial driver license. He said he was so disturbed by the 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.”
Unfortunately, knowing that the vast majority of veterans enrolling at AST did not intend to attend any portion of those programs, Marshall and Waggoner created and submitted fraudulent enrollment certifications, according to Marshall’s plea agreement.
They also created student files that contained bogus documents, prosecutors said.
Marshall’s plea agreement notes that the two “recruited and caused others to recruit” hundreds of in-state and out-of-state veterans eligible for VA education benefits to attend a 160-hour tractor trailer and safety class and 600-hour Select Driver Development Program at the school.
The Alliance School of Trucking is based in Chatsworth, Calif. (Viewpoints TV Videos via YouTube)
Some of the students received $2,000 to $3,000 in housing allowances and money for books and supplies paid directly by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The school was paid the bulk of the VA tuition funding, according to court records.
Marshall admitted that he, Waggoner and another individual — unidentified in the indictment — told the veterans they could collect housing and other fees from the VA without attending the programs. Knowing that the vast majority of veterans enrolling at the school did not intend to attend any portion of the programs, Marshall and Waggoner created and submitted fraudulent enrollment certifications, according to Marshall’s plea agreement.
At one point, when they became aware of the investigation into their conduct, Marshall, Waggoner and others at the school removed fraudulent documents from student files, and Marshall later ordered that the files be destroyed, the plea agreement states.