NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - The owner of a for-profit trade school was sentenced to more than 19 years in federal prison for bilking the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of $72 million and of misleading student veterans.
In April, a federal jury convicted Jonathan Dean Davis, the 43 year-old owner of Retail Ready Career Center, of seven counts of wire fraud and four counts of money laundering. He was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr, who also ordered him to pay $65.2 million in restitution. In addition to paying restitution, Mr. Davis will be required to forfeit $72.5 million to the federal government.
The defendant was remanded into custody immediately following conviction, and was remanded back into custody after his sentencing hearing.
"A jury found that Mr. Davis lied to multiple government agencies, lining his pockets with veterans' GI Bill benefits even as they were struggling to scrape by," said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah. "Mr. Davis' crimes were a slap in the face to the sacrifices made by our service members, and we are proud to put him behind bars for such a significant period of time."
According to evidence presented at trial, Davis marketed Retail Ready's six-week HVAC training course to veterans whose tuition and fees would be covered by the Veteran's Educational Assistance Act of 2008, also known as the post-9/11 GI Bill. The defendant, who was essentially broke at the time of the crime, realized that he could charge $18,000 to $21,000 per student for the six-week course, if only he could get approval from the VA to accept GI Bill payments for tuition – which required prior approvals from the Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Veterans Commission.
These agencies required applicants to certify that they were not personally facing any criminal or civil actions, and to prove that their schools were established educational institutions in stable financial condition. Knowing he could not meet these requirements, Davis repeatedly lied and concealed information from these agencies.
"Several decisions lie ahead that will ultimately make the difference if I succeed or if I fail. More gut-wrenching conversations, more humiliating experiences, more lying is in order," Davis wrote in an electronic journal he kept on his computer, which was recovered by federal agents during a search of Retail Ready. The journal became a key piece of evidence at trial.
Davis assured the TWC that he was not subject to any civil actions, when, in fact, he was facing numerous civil judgments over unpaid debts. He also told the TWC that he was not facing any criminal charges, when, in fact, he had a pending felony charge for theft of services.
Davis told the TVC that Retail Ready had been operating as a school for two years, when, in fact, the company had only existed for a few months and had never trained any students. He claimed that Retail Ready was fully prepared to train veterans, when, in fact, the company lacked a building and basic supplies. He even lied to an independent accountant about the school's financial condition, and then submitted false financial statements to both the TWC and the TVC.
Eventually, based upon Davis' lies to the TWC and TVC, the VA accepted Retail Ready's application, allowing Davis to charge veterans' tuition and fees to the VA under the GI Bill.
In 2014, he began recruiting student veterans, promising to prepare them for lucrative careers in the heating and air conditioning industry. Upon entering the workforce, however, many of these veterans discovered that Retail Ready had failed to teach them many of the basic skills necessary for entry-level technician jobs.
Several veterans testified at trial that they had relied on the Retail Ready's fraudulently obtained VA endorsement and were sorely disappointed about their post- Retail Ready career prospects and pay. They were also shocked to learn of the rate at which Retail Ready's six-week course had drained their GI Bill benefits, testifying that they felt "used," "taken advantage of," "deceived," and "bamboozled."
Even as his veteran graduates struggled to make ends meet, Retail Ready collected more than $72 million in GI Bill benefits from the VA. Using the proceeds of his fraud, Davis purchased a $2.2 million home in Dallas, a $428,000 Lamborghini, a $280,000 Ferrari and a $260,000 Bentley, among other things.
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