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VA official to serve 11 years in prison for misusing $2M, accepting bribes

A Toastmasters gavel rests on a podium before the 2015 Moody Talking Tigers inauguration ceremony June 25, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The Talking Tigers host weekly meetings where members perform speeches and impromptu skits to improve their public-speaking skills. (Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman/U.S. Air Force)
February 18, 2019

A former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official was sentenced Friday to 132 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and restitution to the VA in the sum of $155,000.

James King, 63, of Baltimore, Md. previously pleaded guilty to one count of honest services and money/property wire fraud, one count of bribery of a public official, and one count of falsifying records to obstruct an investigation, according to the Justice Department.

King admitted to demanding and receiving bribes from three for-profit schools in exchange for enrolling disabled military veterans in those schools and facilitating over $2 million in payments from the VA using the veterans’ federal benefits.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates of the District of Columbia passed King’s sentencing. Just days earlier, he sentenced three school owners and employees who admitted to bribing King.

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.

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Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski said, “James King and his associates exploited an important VA program that provides valuable services to our disabled military veterans. 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.”

U.S. Attorney Liu said, “James King blatantly betrayed his responsibility with the VA to provide job and educational counseling to disabled military veterans who turned to him for help. Instead of helping our veterans, he lined his own pockets by taking bribes to send them to three sham schools that brought them only pain and frustration. Today’s sentencing holds him accountable for this breach of trust and this waste of taxpayer money.”

VA OIG Special Agent in Charge Lampkins said, “We are pleased to see Mr. King, a person who abused his position of trust and the veterans he was supposed to serve, sentenced today. This sentence sends a clear message that VA OIG is dedicated to prosecuting those that take advantage of VA programs that are intended to help our veterans and their families.”

King’s plea was the result of an ongoing investigation by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the VA Office of Inspector General.  Trial Attorney Simon J. Cataldo of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, former Assistant U.S. Attorney and current Fraud Section Trial Attorney Sonali D. Patel and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Misler of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia prosecuted the case.