Some Florida for-profit colleges have used highly aggressive techniques to recruit students -- including non-stop phone calls, misleading promises and $500 rewards for referrals.
According to a federal lawsuit, Miami-based FastTrain College added a new wrinkle: hiring strippers as “admissions representatives.”
The “exotic dancer” allegation comes from the U.S. attorney’s office and Florida’s attorney general, who this week both joined a pending whistleblower lawsuit against FastTrain. A civil complaint filed by the two agencies say at least one FastTrain campus used strippers to attract students, though it did not identify the campus.
The college “purposely hired attractive women and sometimes exotic dancers and encouraged them to dress provocatively while they recruited young men in neighborhoods to attend FastTrain,” the lawsuit states.
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FastTrain closed shortly after being raided by the FBI in 2012. It had operated seven Florida campuses in Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Duval counties. The company’s CEO was Alejandro Amor of Coral Gables. Amor was criminally indicted in October, and faces pending charges of conspiracy and theft of government money.
Amor has denied wrongdoing. Neither Amor nor his attorney could be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
Between 2009 and mid-2012, FastTrain received more than $35 million in Pell grants and other federal financial aid, the lawsuit states. The federal government now says that millions of those dollars were fraudulently obtained -- frequently by FastTrain falsifying high school diplomas for students who didn’t have one. Because those students did not graduate from high school, they should have never qualified for student aid in the first place, according to the lawsuit.
Aside from the unconventional use of strippers, the federal lawsuit accuses FastTrain executives of falsifying documents, coaching students to lie on financial aid forms, and employing “a corporate strategy focused on increased admissions and profits above all else.”
To gain access to taxpayer dollars, FastTrain needed first-time students to attend classes for at least 30 days, according to the lawsuit. If students didn’t show, the federal government says FastTrain would falsify attendance records, or backdate the enrollment so the school could collect the money quicker.
“FastTrain’s admissions representatives pressured the ineligible students they enrolled to attend classes for at least the first five days of the period,” the lawsuit states. “When students did not have transportation to get to a FastTrain campus at which they were enrolled, FastTrain’s admissions representatives would pick them up and take them to school.”
The whistleblower lawsuit was initially filed by Juan Pena, a former admissions employee at the Plantation campus and the Flagler campus, which operated at 5555 West Flagler St. in Miami.
At for-profit colleges across Florida and the country, there have been numerous whistle-blower lawsuits filed by ex-employees. But these lawsuits typically gain steam only when the federal government joins the case, which is what happened this week with FastTrain.
During the past decade, for-profit colleges have enjoyed explosive growth in Florida, and the industry now enrolls nearly one in five Florida college students.
Some former FastTrain students, who say they were deceived when they enrolled in the school, are still struggling with student loan debts. The students who were attending around the time of the 2012 FBI raid can get their loans discharged under a “closed school” provision, but students who withdrew or graduated earlier are getting no loan relief.
The federal lawsuit identifies more than 160 former FastTrain students who are now in default on their loans.