A Maryland man pleaded guilty Monday to bribing a public official to steer more than $2.2 million from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to a fraudulent information technology school with services for disabled veterans, federal authorities said.
Albert S. Poawui, 41, of Laurel, owned Atius Technology Institute, a non-accredited information technology school, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
In 2015, Poawui and a vocational counselor at VA agreed Poawui would pay a 7 percent cash kickback for VA payments to Atius, ostensibly for vocational training for disabled veterans, the statement said.
Between 2015 and 2017, VA paid Atius more than $2.2 million, according to the statement, for inflated invoices that showed veterans attending classes for 32 hours per week when the program offered only six hours weekly.
One VA counselor received more than $155,000 for participating in the kickback scheme, prosecutors said, and another was involved as well. Another employee of Atius also helped Poawui conceal the scheme after VA initiated an audit, according to prosecutors.
In a statement, Curtis Cashour, a VA spokesman, said the agency “does not tolerate this sort of behavior, and any employee found to have engaged in any such activities will be held swiftly accountable.”
“The VA employee at the center of these allegations has been fired for reasons unrelated to this investigation,” the statement said. “The second employee referenced no longer works for VA. VA has cooperated fully throughout this investigation.”
The kickback was made to a program counselor with the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program at VA, prosecutors said. As described in the case against Poawui, the program aids disabled veterans with education and employment-related services, and program counselors advise veterans about which schools to attend and facilitate payments for tuition and necessary supplies.
The federal investigation is ongoing, according to prosecutors who on Monday did not identify the other conspirators in the scheme.
Poawui pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John D. Bates of the District of Columbia, the Justice Department statement said. He will be sentenced at a future date.