Ex-couple plead guilty to stealing $1.3M from tuition assistance program

Credit: File photo

Credit: File photo

A man and his ex-wife, a former state employee, pleaded guilty to creating an elaborate multiyear scheme to steal more than $1.3 million from a state tuition assistance program, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

Karen C. Lyke, who worked as a counselor at the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency, and Kevin M. Gregory were charged earlier this year with one count of conspiring to commit federal program theft after state and federal investigators uncovered the couple’s “sophisticated” operation, which included forging educational records to create non-existent students with disabilities, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

“Gregory and Lyke stole money targeted for some of society’s most vulnerable. Their greedy actions also impact every taxpayer,” FBI Atlanta Special Agent Keri Farley said in a statement. “The FBI, alongside our law enforcement partners, will continue to work tirelessly to hold accountable those who steal taxpayer funds.”

As a counselor, Lyke’s job was to assist those applying to the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program, according to prosecutors. The program is aimed at helping people with disabilities find and maintain employment and providing funds for college education. It’s a federally funded program, and those seeking assistance are required to provide identification and proof of need, disability and class registration. A counselor then reviews the documents, and if the request is approved, a check is mailed to the applicant.

ExploreWoman accused of stealing $1.3 million from state tuition assistance program

Lyke worked in her position at the agency’s Norcross office between 2015 and 2019, during which time she and Gregory were married, prosecutors said. The duo conspired to collect more than 230 checks by creating approximately 13 fake students, sometimes using photo editing software to alter authentic documents.

The stolen money was used by the couple to pay for a variety of personal expenses, including cars, jewelry, high-end guitars and a down payment on a new home, according to prosecutors.

Lyke and Gregory continued submitting forged documents until about November 2020, investigators said. The Georgia Office of Inspector General launched its investigation after it was notified of a missing laptop in 2021. A little over a year later, both Lyke and Gregory were charged. Their sentencing will be held at a later date.

“The Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency is committed to protecting the interests of Georgia’s taxpayers and our constituents,” GVRA Executive Director Chris Wells said in a statement. “We notified the Georgia Office of Inspector General as soon as we suspected fraud in this matter. We are also continuing to implement and refine protocols to prevent and catch such incidents of fraud even earlier to ensure both our clients and public funds are secure.”

The GVRA is the same agency that employed another woman who pleaded guilty in April to faking two pregnancies that awarded her more than 200 hours of paid leave.