South Carolina University to Pay $2.5 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations Arising From Violation of Ban on Incentive Compensation

North Greenville University (NGU), based in Greenville, South Carolina, will pay $2.5 million to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act of submitting false claims to the U.S. Department of Education in violation of the federal ban on incentive-based compensation, the Justice Department announced today.   

Title IV of the Higher Education Act (HEA) prohibits any institution of higher education that receives federal student aid from compensating student recruiters with a commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based on the recruiters’ success in securing student enrollment.  The incentive compensation ban protects students against aggressive admissions and recruitment practices that serve the financial interests of the recruiter, rather than the educational needs of the student.

“Offering unlawful financial incentives for recruiting undermines the integrity of our higher education system,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  “Prospective students are entitled to make enrollment decisions without the improper influence of recruiting companies who pursue their own financial gain at the expense of the students’ best interests.”

“This settlement will help ensure that schools and recruitment services put the educational interests of students and potential enrollees first,” said U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon for the District of South Carolina.  “It should serve as a warning to institutions that would attempt to maximize enrollments to line their own pockets, disregarding the best interests of students in the process.  Through False Claims Act cases like this one, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to help protect federal taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse.”

The settlement resolves allegations that between 2014 and 2016, NGU hired Joined Inc., a company partially owned by NGU, to recruit students to NGU and compensated Joined based on the number of students who enrolled in NGU’s programs, in violation of the prohibition on incentive compensation. 

“The Office of Inspector General has a unique and special law enforcement mission – to protect public education funds for eligible students.  Today’s settlement is an example of our commitment to this mission,” said Neil Sanchez, Special Agent in Charge of the U S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Southern Regional Office.  “The OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement colleagues and pursue allegations of violations of the False Claims Act in carrying out our important public service.” 

The allegations resolved by the settlement were brought in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam, or whistleblowerprovisions of the False Claims Act by Maurice Shoe, the co-owner of Joined.  The Act permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to receive a share of any recovery.  As part of today’s resolution, the whistleblower will receive $375,000.

This matter was investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina and the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch.  Investigative assistance was provided by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Education.

The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.  The case is captioned United States ex rel. Shoe v. North Greenville University, No. 6:16-cv-01570 (D.S.C.).

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Author: February 11, 2019

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