Attorney General for the District of Columbia issued the following announcement on Feb. 13.
Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced lawsuits against four Maryland parents for falsifying District residency to send their children to D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) for free. Additionally, AG Racine is suing a DCPS employee for conspiring with one of the parents to enroll her non-resident daughter in a DCPS school. In its lawsuits against the parents, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleges that these individuals broke District law by sending their children to popular District schools without paying required out-of-state tuition. OAG’s lawsuits seek more than $450,000 total in unpaid tuition, damages, and penalties.
“Individuals who commit residency fraud unlawfully take school seats that should be occupied by children who live in the District,” said AG Racine. “This fraud also deprives D.C. taxpayers of the benefit of free public schools. Our office will continue to bring residency fraud cases to deter non-residents from sending their children to District schools without going through the established process that includes paying non-resident tuition.”
Parents, guardians, or eligible caregivers who are District residents can send their children to the District’s traditional public or public charter schools free of charge. Non-residents can apply to send their children to District schools, but they must pay non-resident tuition, which typically costs between $10,000 and $14,000 per year. However, in most cases, even non-residents willing to pay non-resident tuition are not typically admitted to a District school if there are D.C. residents on that school’s waiting list.
Under the District’s False Claims Act, it is illegal to knowingly make false statements to conceal, avoid, or decrease an obligation to pay the District. It is also illegal to knowingly cover up or avoid an obligation to pay the District, even if you do not make any false statements yourself. The District can seek to recover up to triple the amount of unpaid tuition that is owed if a court agrees. The law also allows OAG to obtain civil penalties and recoup expenses incurred in pursuing tuition fraud cases. This means that non-residents who send their children to District schools and do not pay the required tuition could face extremely steep costs if they are found liable for non-resident tuition fraud.
OAG has independent authority to investigate and take legal action under the False Claims Act. While OAG also works collaboratively with District agencies that regulate non-resident tuition and refer cases of suspected residency fraud. If OAG receives an allegation of residency fraud through the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), DCPS, public charter schools, or other channels, the agency independently investigates the case to determine whether there is fraud and if additional legal action is appropriate.
Residency Fraud Lawsuits
OAG filed three separate suits against four parents who fraudulently claimed to be District residents while living in Maryland to send their children to District schools for free. In one of the suits, OAG also alleges that a Dunbar High School employee helped a non-resident student fraudulently attend that school. The suits allege that the defendants:
Falsified D.C. residency to send their children to District schools: All the parents named in the lawsuits lived in Maryland at the time they sent their children to District schools. The parents lied about being D.C. residents, sent their children to District schools, and failed to pay out-of-state tuition.
Lied repeatedly in documents attesting to D.C. residency to avoid paying non-resident tuition: Each year, parents who send their children to D.C. schools are required to submit enrollment forms and residency verification forms for each of their children. These parents used District addresses at which they did not live on the official forms and signed sworn statements attesting that they lived in the District. Some of these forms included the statement “I understand that providing false information for the purposes of defrauding the government is punishable by law.”
Kiana E. Bennett and Willie E. Bennett, Jr.
Kiana E. Bennett and Willie E. Bennett, Jr. are currently residents of the District of Columbia and former residents of Hyattsville, Md. Ms. Bennett is currently employed as a teacher at the District’s McKinley Technology High School; Mr. Bennett is a former DCPS athletics coordinator. During the 2013-2014 school year, their son attended Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School on Capitol Hill. During the 2014-2015 school year, they sent both their son and their daughter to Ludlow-Taylor. On enrollment forms, the Bennetts claimed to be residents of Northeast Washington; however, during the entire time their children attended Ludlow-Taylor tuition-free, the Bennetts were residents of Hyattsville, Md. The District is seeking to recover unpaid tuition, damages and penalties from the Bennetts that could total as much as $186,783.
A copy of the District’s complaint against the Bennetts is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-02/Bennett-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
Erika Parker and Tarkitta Sedgwick
Erika Parker is currently a resident of Bowie, Md. Tarkitta Sedgwick is a resident of Forestville, Md. Ms. Sedgwick is currently employed at the District’s Dunbar High School. Ms. Parker’s daughter attended Dunbar for the entirety of the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, and part of the 2014-2015 school year.
During this period, the complaint alleges, Ms. Parker and Ms. Sedgwick attempted to deceive school authorities into thinking that the child lived in the District. Ms. Sedgwick filled out and signed forms attesting that she was the primary caregiver for Ms. Parker’s daughter and that she and the child lived at an address in Northwest Washington. On one form she claimed to be a cousin of Ms. Parker’s daughter; on another, she claimed to be the child’s aunt. Ms. Sedgwick claimed on these forms that she was the child’s caregiver because Ms. Parker had been displaced or was unable to care for the child.
Ms. Parker also submitted a notarized document to the school titled “District of Columbia Custodial Power of Attorney.” The document asserted that an “Erica Parker” wished to give the “parental rights and responsibilities” regarding her child to Ms. Sedgwick. The form also claimed that Ms. Parker lived at an address in Southeast Washington.
However, during the entire period when Ms. Sedgwick claimed to be the primary caregiver to Ms. Parker’s daughter, the child was living with her mother at her residence in Upper Marlboro, Md. The District is seeking to recover unpaid tuition, damages, and penalties from Ms. Parker and Ms. Sedgwick that could total as much as $168,181.
A copy of the District’s complaint against Ms. Parker and Ms. Sedgwick is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-02/Parker-Sedgwick-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
Twarnisha Peterson Stokes
Twarnisha Peterson Stokes is a resident of Upper Marlboro, Md. Ms. Stokes sent her son to Hardy Middle School in Georgetown for the 2011-2012 school. She then sent him to Wilson High School in Tenleytown for the entirety of the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, and part of the 2014-2015 school year. She claimed to live in the District during this period; however, during this time, she and her son were living in Clinton, Md. The District is seeking to recover unpaid tuition, damages and penalties from Ms. Stokes that could total as much as $98,553.
A copy of the District’s complaint against Ms. Stokes is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-02/Stokes-Residency-Fraud-Complaint.pdf
OAG’s Work on Residency Fraud
Over the past two years, OAG has devoted additional resources, attorneys, and investigators to fight residency fraud. In December, OAG filed suit against six Maryland parents for sending a total of 10 children to District schools, including in-demand schools like Capitol Hill Montessori and Duke Ellington School of the Arts, without paying required out-of-state tuition. Two of the defendants were District government employees, and the suits sought nearly $700,000 in total unpaid tuition and damages. Last May, OAG filed two tuition-fraud lawsuits seeking more than $800,000 in total unpaid tuition, damages and penalties from two non-resident D.C. government employees and one non-resident D.C. public charter school teacher.
Parents with questions about the non-resident tuition enforcement process can find answers to frequently asked questions here: https://oag.dc.gov/blog/understanding-non-resident-tuition-enforcement.
Original source can be found here.