More than a dozen young women testified yesterday that they were never students at the Monique Beauty Academy in Southeast Washington, whose owner is charged with fabricating school records to collect and keep more than $100,000 in federal money intended to help these students and others with their tuition.
Altogether, the Monique Beauty Academy, headed by James L. Sutton, collected $557,000 in grant money from 1976 to early 1979 from what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In addition to the $100,000, the government alleges that another $185,000, is unaccounted for.
The young women took the witness stand yesterday in U.S. District Court here and leafed through their "student records" from the beauty school at which they had once considered pursuing the art of good looks.
Inside the red and green folders, they saw detailed information about their school attendance records, complete with excuses for absences and in some cases their grades for classes in doing manicures, shampoos and eyebrows. The files also showed that each woman had received help with her tuition from the federal government through what is known as a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant.
None of the women ever learned to paint fingernail or pluck an eyebrow at Monique. They never set foot in the place as students, they testified, and never received any grant money. They did not attend the school, they said, because they could not get a baby sitter, their children got sick or they simply changed their plans.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Reardon III told the jury at the outset of Sutton's trial that the government will attempt to prove through testimony that Sutton "said he could get his dog a Basic Grant if he wanted to . . . that's how easy it was." Sutton, 50, has been charged by a federal grand jury with conspiracy to defraud the government, making false statements to the government about the case and obstruction of justice.
Sutton's lawyer, Patrick J. Christmas, said yesterday that his client has agreed to return $143,000 of unused grant money to the federal government that had been received for students who never showed up. Moreover, Christmas said that under the terms of the grant program his client still has time to submit legitimate student rosters to the government to justify the receipt of some of the rest of the grant money.
As to the more than 100 "students" who never appeared at the school but whose grant money was received, Sutton contends that he had no knowledge of any alleged fraud. He also claims that two school employes, including a man who was once the academy's financial aid officer, were responsible for any alleged wrongdoing. Both of the school employes have been granted immunity from prosecution and are government witnesses at Sutton's trial.
The financial aid officer, Peter A. Chaconas, who was named by the grand jury as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, testified earlier this week that he took $54,000 as his share of the grant money from December 1976 through May 1978, when he left the school Madeline (Pat) Harris, another unindicted co-conspirator and the second academy worker granted immunity, is scheduled to testify later. The trial is now is its sixth day before Judge Joyce Hens Green.
In testimony yesterday, Yvonne Gafford, one of the would-be-students, said a recruiter for the academy came to her Southeast Washington home three years ago and suggested she enroll at Monique. Gafford said she filled out an application, saying she would like to go to the school because "I always wanted to fix hair."
The grand jury charged that even though Gafford later told the school she could not attend classes, a student grant contract with her name on it was submitted to HEW to justify receipt of the money.
It was in the spring of 1978 that HEW program review officers began an inspection of the beauty academy's records. Reardon told the jury. At that point, Sutton allegedly began directing the academy's employes to manufacture student records in order to support the school's receipt of the HEW money. Monique Beauty Academy operates schools at 4025 S. Capitol St. SE, 1519 Wisconsin Ave. NW and 704 W. Randolph St. in Arlington. s
The government contends that its evidence will show that in 1979, when a federal grand jury subpoenaed the schools records, Sutton allegedly ordered further changes in the student files, which included purging the files of allegedly false information that had been drawn up for the HEW investigation. New information about attendance records and grant contracts with alleged students was allegedly placed in the file, the government contends, and turned over to the grand jury.
Sutton wanted to "clean it up as best he could to try to account for that money," Reardon told the jury. Sutton's lawyer reserved his right to make an opening statement to the jury until the completion of the government's case.