11 years in jail for ex-Veterans Affairs official in disabled vet fraud scheme

The seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington, Friday, June 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)(AP/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON — A former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs official has been sentenced 11 years in prison for a $2 million bribery scheme involving a program for disabled military veterans.

James King, 63, of Baltimore, previously pleaded guilty to one count of honest services and money wire fraud, one count of bribery of a public official and one count of falsifying records to obstruct an investigation, authorities said in a news release.

King was sentenced Friday to serve 132 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and to pay $155,000 in restitution to Veterans Affairs.

Three school owners and employees, who admitted to bribing King, were sentenced last week.

Albert Poawui, the owner of Atius Technology Institute, was sentenced to serve 70 months in prison and ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution.

Sombo Kanneh, Poawui’s employee, was sentenced to serve 20 months in prison and ordered to pay $113,000 in restitution.

Michelle Stevens, the owner of Eelon Training Academy, was sentenced to serve 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $83,000 in restitution.

“James King and his associates exploited an important VA program that provides valuable services to our disabled military veterans,” said Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski in a release. “This prosecution once again demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to hold accountable those who seek to defraud government programs for their own personal enrichment.”

According to prosecutors, from 2015 through 2017, King, using his position as a VR&E program counselor, demanded and received cash bribes from the owners of Atius Technology Institute, Eelon Training Academy and School A — a school purporting to specialize in physical security classes.

King facilitated over $2 million in payments to Atius, over $83,000 to Eelon, and over $340,000 to School A, all as part of King’s separate agreements with the respective school owners to commit bribery and defraud Veterans Affairs, the release said.

King agreed with Poawui and Stevens that they would each pay him, in cash, 7 percent of the money they received from Veterans Affairs in exchange for King steering veterans to their schools and facilitating Veterans Affairs payments. King similarly accepted cash payments from the owner of School A in exchange for the same official acts.

In order to maximize the profits from their fraud, all three school owners sent King and other Veterans Affairs officials false information about the education being provided to veterans, and King facilitated payments to all three schools knowing this information was false, according to a news release.

King admitted to repeatedly lying to veterans under his supervision in order to convince them to attend Atius, Eelon, or School A.

In early 2017, the Veterans Affairs initiated a fact-finding inquiry into Atius based on complaints by students as to the quality of education at the school. In August 2017, after King became aware of the inquiry, he created a falsified site visit report and instructed Poawui to send it to another Veterans Affairs official, all in an effort to obstruct the Veteran’s Affairs inquiry into Atius, the release said. In January 2018, King attempted to convince Poawui to lie to the grand jury about the purpose of the bribe payments, according to the release.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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