SAN PABLO (KCBS) – Contra Costa College last year distributed thousands of dollars of federal grant money to dozens of students who either never enrolled, or did not complete online classes required to be eligible for financial aid.

“Presently you can get the check before you start class, and then if you never show up for class, the college won’t know until they audit the following semester,” said Dodie Katague, a prosecutor at the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.

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Six months ago, the Richmond couple behind what’s become known as the Pell runner scam helped 30 students apply for federal Pell grants to pay fees for online classes through the community college’s San Pablo campus.

Once the students picked up their financial aid checks, they managed to either stop enrollment or withdrew from class without the college realizing it, and pocketed nearly $3,000 each.

The couple who organized the scam will be serving jail time and paying restitution. Ten students connected to the case so far have court dates this month on charges of grand theft.

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In the meantime, prosecutors worry the Contra Costa Community College District will have trouble protecting itself from a similar scheme in the future.

“It would be nice if they could do auditing before they actually get the check or wait to disperse the check until after students show up in class and it’s confirmed that they are taking classes,” Katague said.

The district is looking at better ways of checking attendance in online classes, said spokesman Tim Leong, “to see whether or not there are some internal steps that we can revise so that we can catch future financial aid fraud situations.”

“Action plans were developed, and our internal investigation will now take a look over the next month to ensure that the recommendations that were offered have in fact been implemented.”

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