The federal government says a company that tutored struggling New York City students was caught cheating as it tried to score tens of millions of dollars in federal funding.
Federal prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General filed a civil fraud lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against The Princeton Review Inc. and one of its former employees.
"The Princeton Review and its employees were supposed to tutor needy students, not cheat a federal program," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a release.
It alleged that the company's employees regularly submitted false claims for reimbursement when it tutored underprivileged students attending underperforming city schools from 2002 to 2010. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for tens of millions of dollars that it alleges the company received from 2006 to 2010. Princeton Review stopped its school tutoring program in 2010.
Princeton Review said in a statement Tuesday that none of the employees or executives involved in the program remain with the company. It said the department known as the Supplemental Educational Services division was closed in 2010 and most of the current executives were not with the company then.
"We are working closely with the U.S. Attorney's office to resolve this matter expeditiously," the statement said.
The federal government alleged in its lawsuit that Princeton Review employees regularly faked entries on daily student attendance forms to make it appear as though more students were participating than actually were. It said they did so in part because site managers were pressured by their supervisors to maintain high daily student attendance or they'd be fired and get pay reductions.
Meanwhile, the government said, supervisors were paid thousands of dollars in bonuses if the managers they watched over consistently reported high daily student attendance.
The lawsuit said the cheating was not so hard to detect because some students' signatures look nothing like their actual signatures. Others were misspelled, including one instance in which the first name "Dontae" was misspelled "Donate."
The government said it also had the word of parents, including one who said her child was in Mexico on family vacation for four days when the child's signature appears on daily student attendance forms. Another parent, it said, reported that her child was home recuperating from surgery for three days when the child's name appears on student attendance forms.