Stylish student allegedly stole $429,000 in financial aid from Howard University

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Howard University is embroiled in controversy this week, after a whistleblower alerted the public to the alleged misappropriation of $1 million in financial aid by school employees. This type of fraud is nothing new to universities. It’s safe to say, however, that online reaction to the scandal has been more entertaining than most, particularly after social media users caught wind of one of the possible suspects, law student and fashion blogger Tyrone Hankerson Jr.

“I was alerted in December 2016 that there may have been some misappropriation of University-provided financial aid funds,” Howard University President Wayne Frederick said in a statement on Wednesday. He said he immediately initiated an audit, which concluded that from 2007-2016, the school gave grants and tuition remission to some of its student employees that exceeded the total cost of attendance. All of the money involved was from the university, not from federal or donor-directed funds, Frederick said.

“An investigation of individual employee actions was completed in September 2017 and as a result, six employees have been fired for gross misconduct and neglect of duties,” the statement said. “We will refer this matter for criminal prosecution, as appropriate.”

What has many up in arms, including the Howard University Student Association, is that the school did not alert its students to this fraud until this week. A writer going by the name “Veritas 1867” posted a story to Medium saying that $1 million in financial aid was diverted from 2013-2017 (Frederick has not specified an amount). The post, which has since been deleted, said that it was a student employee who first alerted administrators to the issue, and named two people allegedly involved in the scam, former associate director of financial aid Brian Johnson and law student Tyrone Hankerson Jr. The latter, who also attended Howard as an undergraduate, supposedly received $429,612 in grants and various scholarships over four years.

“We are frustrated to see the University’s statement being sent to the press and not addressed to students first,” the student association tweeted on Wednesday. “This clearly is a betrayal of our trust and should’ve been addressed to the Howard Community months ago.”

Frederick did meet with the group later on Wednesday, and according to its Twitter, he assured them that the embezzlement did not result in a loss of financial aid to any students.

Not everyone is buying that.

Meanwhile, people are having a field day with Hankerson. Though he has since deleted all of his social media accounts, he didn’t erase his digital footprint before many were able to save photos of the student wearing expensive-looking clothing, including a huge fur coat.

Financial aid fraud plagues many a school. The list of investigations by the U.S. Department of Education reveals that dozens of schemes are discovered each year (and those are just the ones involving federal funds). In January, the New York Times reported that the former director of financial aid at Columbia University’s Teachers College helped three students receive inflated stipends. One student received nearly $600,000 in stipends from 2011-2017 despite not having been enrolled in classes since 2010, according to authorities. In 2016, a New York University graduate student pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining $1.3 million in federal student loans by submitting forged documents from doctors and landlords.

As far as we know, none of those students modeled their loot quite this way.

Hankerson released a statement to ABC News through his lawyer denying the allegations against him.

“When the truth comes out, it will be confirmed that I followed all rules and protocol with the approval of the, then, financial aid officers in any grants, scholarships or awards given to me as a student who attended class all year round and traveled abroad,” the statement said. “[T]he story that was posted this morning fails to explain the full scope of my 7-year experience at Howard University and is most misleading if taken out of context.”

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