$700,000 student aid scheme went 'undetected' for years in North Carolina, feds say




  • In US
  • 2020-05-22 19:41:17Z
  • By Charlotte Observer

A school director made fake transcripts to steal financial aid and help fund a religious leader's ranch in North Carolina, where residents havebeen accused of violating child labor laws, officials say.

Brenda Joyce Hall, 51, is facing federal charges in connection with the alleged fraud scheme, which went "undetected" for years, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Hall's attorney didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday afternoon.

From 2000 to 2017, Hall ran a "non-public home school" called Halls of Knowledge, federal prosecutors said this month in an indictment. The campus was on The Ranch, which late preacher John C. McCollum owned, The News & Observer previously reported.

In 2018, Hall and other residents of the Fayetteville-area ranch were accused of playing roles in a child labor operation, the newspaper reported. At the time, officials accused adult residents of forcing kids as young as 9 into "involuntary servitude" at fish markets that McCollum owned.

McCollum, who was among those charged, died in August 2018, The News & Observer reported.

The Cumberland County district attorney and clerk of court's offices didn't immediately respond to requests for case updates on Friday morning and afternoon.

In the federal case, Hall is accused of creating bogus transcripts for people who lived on The Ranch but hadn't graduated from her school.

Several of the people Hall recruited in the alleged scheme didn't plan to go to Wake Technical Community College, where she told them they wouldn't have to complete coursework, prosecutors say.

After Hall helped people enroll in the school, she took money that was supposed to be used for their education-related expenses, according to officials.

The students "were directed, in some instances, to cash out the remaining funds and pay them over to The Ranch," the federal government said in its news release. "The remaining student aid monies were then used to fund the operations of the Ranch, the fish markets, and other ventures."

Hall is accused of getting about $700,000 in student aid, according to a federal indictment. The scheme, which began in 2011 or earlier, went unnoticed because residents of The Ranch would do online coursework for the students, prosecutors say.

Hall, who lives in Godwin, is facing charges that include "conspiracy to commit student loan fraud and wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft," according to the news release.

The indictment filed earlier this month says others were involved in the alleged scheme but doesn't list anyone else's full name.

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