Dodge City Community College, Arizona helicopter school settle VA fraud case for $7.5 million


DOJ: Enrollment records falsified for 5 years to maintain VA funding

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by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
August 16, 2022

TOPEKA — Dodge City Community College and a private Arizona helicopter flight training school agreed to pay $7.5 million to resolve allegations that enrollment reports were falsified for years to qualify the program for financial support from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The post-9/11 GI Bill dedicated VA financial assistance to veterans taking classes in the program jointly operated by Universal Helicopters in Chandler, Arizona, and DCCC in Dodge City. A requirement of VA support was that a minimum of 15% of full-time students had to be nonveterans, a provision designed to make certain tuition and fee payments by the federal government on behalf of veterans reflected market rate.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which initiated an investigation based on a whistleblower complaint, said Monday that from 2013 to 2018 both Universal Helicopters and the community college improperly certified compliance with the so-called 85/15 rule despite evidence courses were taken almost exclusively by veterans.

In addition, the community college counted part-time students enrolled in one online class per semester as full-time students in violation of VA rules.

Duston Slinkard, U.S. attorney for Kansas, said participants in the scheme abused a program crafted to demonstrate gratitude to veterans by offering men and women with military service a path to higher education.

“It’s disheartening that any institution of higher learning would submit inaccurate information in order to improperly receive funds designed to benefit those who serve our nation,” Slinkard said.

Under the settlement agreement, Universal Helicopter would pay $7 million for violating federal false claims law. The community college would be obligated for $500,000, but prosecutors indicated payment of the penalty would depend on the institution’s financial standing.

The settlement included a claim brought under a whistleblower law by William Rowe, a veteran and former student in the helicopter program. Federal law allows a person providing key information about fraud to receive a portion of the government’s financial recovery. In this case, Rowe is eligible for $1.1 million.

“The post-9/11 GI Bill provides significant educational opportunities to our nation’s veterans,” said Brian Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s civil division. “The department will continue to help safeguard the integrity of VA programs intended for the advancement and benefit of veterans.”

Special agent in charge Rebeccalynn Staples, with the VA’s office of inspector general, said the case demonstrated a commitment to pursuing schools that targeted veterans’ education benefits. She urged people with knowledge of possible fraud against the VA to contact the 1-800-488-8244 hotline.

Dodge City Community College’s helicopter flight instructor program is currently offered to students by Quantum Helicopters at the Chandler Municipal Airport. The college has been involved with the flight school in Arizona since 2011, working from Scottsdale and Prescott from 2011 to 2018.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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