New York, NY - February 7, 2014 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the conviction after trial of Salvatrice Gaston, Robinson Akenami and Joceyln "JoJo" Allrich for their role in a massive scheme to defraud students, as part of his ongoing effort to prosecute fraud in the education industry. Over a period of almost 5 years, the defendants and their co-conspirators operated a network of bogus nursing schools in New York City and Long Island. More than 100 students collectively paid more than $1 million to enroll in the programs that the defendants claimed would qualify them for careers in nursing. However, the certifications and transcripts the schools provided were fraudulent.
After a 5-week trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court, which included the testimony of more than 30 witnesses - 25 of them student-victims - and the admission of more than 150 documents entered as evidence, a jury found the defendants guilty on all counts.
The jury convicted defendant Salvatrice Gaston of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (a class E felony) and six counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a class D felony). Defendant Robinson Akenami was convicted of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, six counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, and two counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree (a class E felony). Defendant Jocelyn Allrich was convicted of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree and six counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree. Each of the defendants faces a maximum sentence of 2 1/3 to 7 years behind bars on the top count. They are scheduled to be sentenced before Justice Joel Goldberg in Kings County Supreme Court on March 21, 2014.
“These defendants set up a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme by targeting people hoping to pursue new opportunities. They lined their own pockets with their victims’ hard earned money, and are now facing significant jail time,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “We thank the jury for their service. Their verdict sends a clear message to anyone looking to profit from fraud: You will be brought to justice.”
Dr. John B. King, Jr., Commissioner of the New York State Education Department, said, “The Regents and I are vigilant protectors of the educational opportunity of all New Yorkers. There is no place in our state for those who would undermine the economic future of our most vulnerable populations. We are grateful that the Attorney General moved swiftly to prosecute these crimes based on our initial investigation.”
Evidence at trial showed that between April 2006 and February 2011, Gaston, Akenami and Allrich, together with other co-conspirators, engaged in an elaborate scheme to defraud by operating a network of fake schools in Brooklyn and Nassau County. They conspired to create and operate entities that claimed to be nursing schools. The defendants then recruited individuals – particularly of lower income – and falsely promised that completing the programs would make students eligible to take the New York State Nursing Board Exam (NCLEX) and become Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or Registered Nurses (RNs) in New York.
Those who enrolled were burdened by significant tuition costs of between $7,000 and $20,000. They spent between 10 months and two years completing the program, only to be issued fraudulent transcripts and certifications in the name of schools, including National Academy in Kingston, Jamaica, that were not approved by the New York State Education Department. Contrary to what they were told, the students who paid for and participated in the programs were not eligible to take the Nursing Board Exam or become LPNs or RNs.
The fake schools run by the three defendants in this trial were Envision Review Center, located at 1894 Flatbush Avenue, 2nd Floor, Brooklyn, owned and operated by Salvatrice Gaston and Carline D'Haiti; Helping Angels Foundation of America (HAFA), located at 78 Saratoga Avenue, Brooklyn and 245-06 Jericho Turnpike, Suite LL05, Floral Park, Long Island, owned and operated by Robinson Akenami; and Hope-VTEC a/k/a J. Allrich Productions, Inc., located at 1057-1059 Hempstead Turnpike, Franklin Square, owned and operated by Jocelyn Allrich.
Gaston, 58, lives in Brooklyn; Akenami, 38, lives in Queens; and Allrich, 54, lives in Elmont, NY.
In addition to Gaston, Akenami and Allrich, four other defendants charged in the Attorney General's 69-count indictment have been convicted for their involvement in the scheme. In 2012, co-defendants Carl Lee Sellers and Frantz Simeon pleaded guilty to Scheme to Defraud (a class E felony) and Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree (a class A misdemeanor) and were each sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison. In 2013, co-defendant Carlene D'Haiti pleaded guilty to the indictment and was sentenced to one year in prison, and co-defendant Anthony Meyers pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor larceny count and was sentenced to a conditional discharge after already serving more than a year in jail.
The cases against the remaining defendants charged in the Attorney General's indictment, Jude Valles, Rodye Paquiot, Andre Castage and Nadege August, remain pending.
The charges against these defendants are merely accusations, and these defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.
This case was the result of a joint investigation by the Attorney General and the New York State Department of Education. The Attorney General thanks the New York State Department of Education for its valuable assistance in this case.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Hugh McLean and Milton Yu of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, with the assistance of Legal Analysts Mikael Awake and Christopher Michel, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton, Bureau Chief Gary Fishman and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan. The Attorney General's investigation was handled by Supervising Investigators Luis Carter and John Serrapica, and Investigators Karon Richardson, Elsa Rojas and Herbert Antomez, under the supervision of Deputy Chief of Investigations John McManus and Chief Dominick Zarrella.