Photo by PoPville flickr user Jacques Arsenault
From the Office of the Attorney General:
“Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced lawsuits against six Maryland parents for falsifying District residency to send their children to District schools for free. In four separate lawsuits, OAG alleges that these non-residents broke District law by sending a total of 10 children to District schools, including in-demand schools like Capitol Hill Montessori and Duke Ellington School of the Arts, without paying required out-of-state tuition. The lawsuits seek nearly $700,000 total in unpaid tuition and damages, and potentially up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.
“These out-of-state parents cheated District taxpayers and deprived our students of educational opportunities by fraudulently sending their kids to District schools for free,” said AG Racine. “Residency fraud is theft and it is illegal. Parents who lie about residency to avoid paying non-resident tuition at District schools will face serious consequences for breaking the law.”
Parents or guardians who are District residents can send their children to the District’s traditional public or public charter schools free of charge. Non-residents can apply to send their children to District schools, but they must pay non-resident tuition, which typically costs between $10,000 and $14,000 per year. However, in most cases, even paying non-residents are not typically admitted to a District school if there are D.C. residents on that school’s waiting list.
Under the District’s False Claims Act, it is illegal to knowingly make false statements to conceal, avoid, or decrease an obligation to pay the District. It is also illegal to knowingly cover up or avoid an obligation to pay the District, even if you do not make any false statements yourself. The District can seek to recover up to triple the amount that is owed if a court agrees and also obtain civil penalties. This means that non-residents who send their children to District schools and do not pay the required tuition could face extremely steep costs if they are found liable for non-resident tuition fraud.
OAG has independent authority to investigate and take legal action under the False Claims Act. If OAG receives an allegation of residency fraud through the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) or public charter schools, or other channels, the agency independently investigates the case to determine whether there is fraud and if additional legal action is appropriate.
Residency Fraud Lawsuits
OAG filed four separate suits against six Maryland parents who fraudulently claimed to be District residents in order to send their children to District schools without paying tuition. Specifically, OAG alleges that these parents:
- Falsified D.C. residency to send their children to District schools: All the parents named in the lawsuits are Maryland residents whose children also lived in Maryland. The parents lied about being D.C. residents, sent their children to District schools, and failed to pay out-of-state tuition.
- Lied repeatedly in documents attesting to D.C. residency to avoid paying non-resident tuition: Each year, parents who send their children to D.C. schools are required to submit enrollment forms and residency verification forms for each of their children. These parents used District addresses that belonged to other individuals on the official forms and signed sworn statements attesting that they lived in the District. Some of these forms included the statement “I understand that providing false information for the purposes of defrauding the government is punishable by law.”
William H. Harrison and Cassandra V. Harrison
William H. Harrison and Cassandra V. Harrison are residents of Brandywine, Maryland. Mr. Harrison is a contractor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Harrisons sent three of their children to District schools between 2012 and 2017, with two children attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts and one child attending Hyde-Addison Elementary and Hardy Middle School.
In addition to fraudulently enrolling their children in District schools, OAG alleges that Ms. Harrison fraudulently enrolled herself and her children in the District’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as the food stamp program, which provides help for low-income families who live in the District.
The District is seeking to recover unpaid tuition, fraudulently-obtained SNAP benefits, and damages totaling $258,253.80 and requesting penalties that could total as much as $241,000.
A copy of the District’s complaint against the Harrisons is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-12/Harrison-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
Ionosphere Torres is a resident of Oxon Hill, Maryland. She sent her four children to District schools between 2014 and 2018. Two of Torres’s children attended McKinley Technology High School and two of the children attended Wheatley Middle School. The District is seeking to recover unpaid tuition and damages totaling $188,196.00 and requesting penalties that could total as much as $77,000.
A copy of the District’s complaint against Torres is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-12/Torres-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
Shawn L. Clark and Donnise Wortham
Shawn L. Clark is a resident of Hyattsville, Maryland and Donnise Wortham is a resident of Capitol Heights, Maryland. Both are employees of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. Between 2007 and the current 2018-2019 school year, they sent two of their children to Ballou High School. One of the children also attended Richard Wright Public Charter for Journalism and Media Arts. The District is seeking to recover unpaid tuition and damages of approximately $192,000 and requesting penalties that could total as much as $88,000.
A copy of the District’s complaint against Clark and Wortham is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-12/Clark-Wortham-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
Shawn L. Clark and Erica P. Fowler
Shawn L. Clark, a resident of Hyattsville, Maryland and an employee of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, is also named in a second lawsuit along with the mother of another one of his children, Erica Pamela Fowler, who also resides in Hyattsville, Maryland. In 2017, Clark and Fowler sent their daughter to Capitol Hill Montessori School, where she is currently attending for the 2018-2019 school year. The District is seeking to recover unpaid tuition and damages of approximately $56,298.00 and requesting penalties that could total as much as $44,000.
A copy of the District’s complaint against Clark and Fowler is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-12/Clark-Fowler-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
OAG’s Work on Residency Fraud
Over the past two years, OAG has devoted additional resources, attorneys, and investigators to fight residency fraud. Parents with questions about the non-resident tuition enforcement process can find answers to frequently asked questions here: https://oag.dc.gov/blog/understanding-non-resident-tuition-enforcement.
Anyone who knows of or suspects residency fraud can submit a tip directly to OAG by email at [email protected]. They can also submit tips to OSSE by calling (202) 719-6500 or submitting a tip online.”
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