The owner of the Monique Beauty Academy of Southeast Washington, accused of illegally keeping more than $100,000 in federal grant money intended to help needy students, was convicted in federal court here yesterday of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and false statement charges.
The jury of 10 men and two women deliberated for 80 minutes before it found James L. Sutton, 50, guilty of all 35 criminal counts against him. U.S. District Court Judge Joyce Hens Green released Sutton on personal bond on condition that he report regularly to court officials and his lawyer until his sentencing, scheduled for Jan. 28.
Prosecutors had contended Sutton fabricated and doctored student records to justify tuition grants for more than 120 enrollees who never actually attended the Monique Beauty Academy. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Reardon III told the jury in his closing argument Thursday that Sutton once bragged, "I could get my dog a grant as long as it had a Social Security number."
According to evidence in the case, the academy received a total of $557,000 in Basic Educational Grant money from 1976 to 1979 from what was then called the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The government contended that in addition to the $100,000 illegally kept by Sutton, another $185,000 is unaccounted for.
Sutton, who did not testify at his trial, contended through evidence from an independent accountant that he still had time under the grant provisions to return grant money to the federal government.
Represented by attorney Patrick J. Christmas, Sutton also contended that he had no knowledge of fraudulent activity and blamed any irregularities on two former employes.
The two employes, a lawyer and a secretary, who were both named by a grand jury as unindicted coconspirators with Sutton, testified for the government that they had acted at Sutton's direction. Moreover, the lawyer testified he received a 20 percent cut -- about $54,000 -- as his share of the grant money.
FBI agent Robert J. Kirwan Jr. and Joseph Prioleau of the inspector general's office in the Department of Health and Human Services (formerly HEW) investigated the case against Sutton, along with the U.S. Attorney's office.
After HEW program review officers started inspecting the academy's records in 1978, Sutton began directing employes to doctor school records to support the grant awards, prosecutors said.