The former president of a small South Carolina college that attracted low-income black students from Washington with the promise of a free education was sentenced this week to five years in prison for making false statements to obtain about $166,000 in U.S. Department of Education funds.
Charles W. Petress, 41, former president of Friendship College in Rock Hill, S.C., also was fined $3,000 and sentenced to an additional five years' probation, during which he is barred from associating with any education programs, according to Henry Dargan McMaster, U.S. attorney for South Carolina.
Petress and two other former officials of the now-defunct school, all of whom entered guilty pleas to charges against them, were sentenced Wednesday in Columbia, S.C., by U.S. District Court Judge Clyde H. Hamilton.
Petress "had a tremendous opportunity to help members of his own race and he defrauded them and misled them," Hamilton wrote. "He preyed upon economically deprived individuals in the Washington, D.C., area, brought them to South Carolina, promised them an education and left them stranded."
In what prosecutors said was a desperate attempt to keep the financially ailing school going, Petress paid $25 per student in October 1981 for a local recruiter to sign up about 100 Washington area youths.
Most of the students returned home within days of arriving at the school. The students said the dilapidated school was largely uninhabitable and that courses glowingly described in a slick-looking catalogue did not exist.
Petress, according to prosecutors, used the students' names to apply for work-study grants from the U.S. Department of Education. Petress and the other two school officials were indicted last August for obtaining the funds from the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant and College Work Study programs.
Petress, who initially had been charged with conspiracy, three counts of embezzling and eight counts of making false statements, pleaded guilty on Jan. 19 to two counts of making false statements.
Chandra M. Patel, 38, Friendship's former business manager, pleaded guilty last October to one count of making a false statement and was sentenced to 42 months in prison and fined $5,000. Hamilton, in sentencing Patel, wrote that Patel was the most educated of the three defendants. "I doubt it could have been done without someone of your ability to juggle the accounts and fill out the forms," Hamilton said.
Arthur W. Henderson, 30, who acted as a financial aid officer, pleaded guilty on Jan. 20 to a single count of making a false statement. Henderson was fined $500, given a one-year suspended sentence and placed on five years' probation.