Jacksonville man pleads guilty to student aid fraud by using identities of family, homeless people

FILE - This file photo shows a graduation mortar board cap on $100 bills.
FILE - This file photo shows a graduation mortar board cap on $100 bills.(Business Wire/AP)
Published: Apr. 22, 2022 at 1:25 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WITN) - A Jacksonville man has pleaded guilty to using the identities of family members, homeless people, and drug addicts to steal more than a quarter of a million dollars in federal student aid funds.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says 47-year-old Duane Burton, of Jacksonville, worked with others to defraud the United States Department of Education.

”The defendant exploited homeless people, trafficked drugs, and took over a quarter of a million dollars intended to support education,” Michael Easley, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina said.

Easley says Burton pled guilty to conspiracy to commit student aid fraud, aggravated identity theft, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The aggravated identity theft charge requires the court to impose a mandatory sentence of two years in prison consecutive to any other sentence relating to the student aid conspiracy.

Federal prosecutors say that between 2014 and 2020, Burton sought nearly $300,000 in federal student aid funds in the names of 28 individuals.

According to the government’s statement during the plea hearing, Burton tricked homeless people at a shelter into giving him their personal information by falsely claiming he was collecting information for the census. Burton also got names and information in exchange for illegal narcotics.

WITN is told Burton submitted false information on the Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, provided fabricated documents, and recruited others to take general equivalency exams and placement tests for the named students.

The Feds say Burton profited by getting refunds issued by Cape Fear Community College.

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