Mississippi barber school, owner accused of bilking taxpayers $235,000 in benefits

Published 5:31 am Friday, October 6, 2023

A Mississippi barber school and its owner have been accused of defrauding taxpayers to the tune of $235,734 in benefits.

Todd W. Gee, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, announced today that the United States filed a civil complaint against April Tucker Beard and her barber school, April’s Mane Attraction, Inc., Academy, seeking treble damages and penalties for defrauding the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ Post-9/11 GI Bill education assistance program. The United States alleges that Beard and her school unlawfully received VA education assistance funds in the amount of $235,734 to which she was not entitled.

As part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, the VA provides tuition and fee payments directly to qualifying schools, including non-degree schools such as AMA/Academy, on behalf of eligible veterans.  These benefits are part of the United States’ promise to support veterans after honorably serving our country.

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To qualify as an institution eligible to receive VA education assistance funds, the school must submit a written application with supporting documents to the State’s Approving Agency.  Beard and AMA/Academy received such approval in May 2017.  Thereafter, the school’s certifying official must submit separate enrollment certifications for each enrolled veteran certifying the course in which the veteran is being enrolled, the start and end dates of the enrollment period, the number of hours per week the veteran will attend class, and the cost of tuition and fees for the course.  In addition, the school certifies that it will comply with all program requirements under Title 38, which includes charging comparable tuition for VA and non-VA students. Requiring consistent and comparable tuition ensures that the VA is paying fair market value tuition rates and also provides protection for the government so that it is not funding education for non-VA students.

The United States alleges in its complaint that from July 2017 to November 2019, Beard and AMA/Academy made or caused to be made false statements to the VA regarding veteran students’ enrollment in her barber training program to obtain VA funding.  The United States alleges that Beard and her school charged inflated tuition and fees for VA students in the amount of $22,400 as compared to $50/week or $2,400 for non-VA students.  According to the United States, Beard did not maintain accurate attendance records, did not maintain complete and accurate payment ledgers, and did not provide course instruction and certificates of completion to VA students in accordance with program rules and as she certified in application and enrollment documents submitted to the VA.

“The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides important educational and training opportunities to our nation’s veterans, which we must protect from fraud, waste, and abuse,” said United States Attorney Gee. “This office will continue to help safeguard the integrity of VA programs intended to benefit those who serve our nation.”

“Safeguarding Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefit funds is a top priority for our agency,” said Special Agent in Charge Kris Raper with the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General’s South Central Field Office. “The VA OIG thanks the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their efforts in this case.”

This investigation was the result of a dedicated and coordinated effort from the VA OIG, the Veterans Benefits Administration, Education Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, SDMS.