Hillary's silence on education fraud

Posted: Jun 27, 2002 12:00 AM
The New York Times reports that Senator Hillary Clinton is nearing completion of her memoirs. Well, not actually Mrs. Clinton. A small village of personal aides and professional hacks pitched in to research and write the $8 million book. No doubt Mrs. Clinton's team will chronicle her "passionate" commitment to education reform, her "leadership" on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and her "selfless" crusade to help the underprivileged gain access to college. Among the many missing chapters in this self-appointed education guru's memoirs will be one on her role in tacitly endorsing the outrageous plundering of federal Pell grants intended for the "needy." The $11 billion program provides outright, tax-subsidized gifts to college students or their academic institutions. This government-run student financial aid system is a magnet for fraudulent operators, with whom Mrs. Clinton is intimately familiar. Last month, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that financial management problems have cost the federal Department of Education millions of dollars through fraud in disbursing Pell grants to ineligible students. More than $3 million in Pell grants and loans were awarded to students who were taking English as a second language and had no intention of earning a degree or certificate. Three institutions falsified student admissions records to show students were in degree programs; the schools fraudulently disbursed about $2 million. The auditors identified 31 other schools with dubious Pell grant disbursements, and uncovered another $12 million in "potentially fraudulent or otherwise improper" grant and loan payments. In one fiscal year alone, the department overpaid 102,000 students Pell grants totaling $109 million, which has yet to be recovered. Financial control breakdowns, the GAO concluded, were "pervasive." Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight, testified to Congress in 1998 about commonplace Pell grant schemes involving consultants, parents and school faculty members who colluded in falsifying tax forms and fooling the government verification process for aid applications. But the most notorious Pell grant scam in recent memory was pulled off by members of a Hasidic community in Rockland County, N.Y. Leaders of the New Square village set up a bogus seminary in Brooklyn financed by Pell grants awarded to ineligible or nonexistent students. Thousands were enrolled between 1987 and 1992, including many individuals who never earned a degree, never attended a class and were not even aware they were enrolled. The school "administrators" falsified resumes, fabricated board-meeting minutes and cooked up student progress reviews to keep the federal aid flowing. New Square leaders Kalmen Stern, David Goldstein, Benjamin Berger and Jacob Elbaum were convicted in 1999, by which time they had bilked taxpayers out of millions in a scheme the presiding judge called "sophisticated, long-term, and brazen in its execution." How did Mrs. Clinton react upon meeting supporters of clemency for these tuition rip-off artists at the White House in December 2000? "There was a meeting," she acknowledged. "I did sit in on it. That issue (of pardoning the convicts) was raised. It was referred to the president. I never made any view known one way or another at any time." The most outspoken and opinionated advocate For the Children had absolutely nothing to say about these criminal education looters. Her uncharacteristic silence helped secure 1,400 of 1,412 votes from the New Square community, which it delivered to her just months before her husband granted clemency to the four convicted leaders. Last week, a federal probe into the pardons-for-votes scheme ended with no charges filed. And no comment from Sen. Clinton. The continued plundering of the Pell Grant program is an affront to taxpayers -- and to the bona fide college aid applicants whom class-warfare Democrats such as Sen. Clinton claim to represent. They're all for the needy, until their political viability depends on the crooked and greedy.