Annice Kpana, a Long Island nurse who stole nearly $800,000 in a financial aid bribery scheme but cooperated with the government when she was caught, was sentenced to probation in Manhattan federal court on Monday.
Kpana, 36, of Valley Stream, pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with a financial aid director of Columbia University’s Teachers College and others to receive undeserved stipends and then kick back half the money to the aid director, Melanie Williams-Bethea.
The scheme went on for nearly a decade. Prosecutors said Kpana, who kept taking aid after she graduated, netted $400,000 for herself, and took trips with Williams-Bethea to the Caribbean, Hawaii and New Orleans, using scammed stipends to pay for travel.
But at her sentencing, prosecutor Alex Rossmiller said Kpana’s quick cooperation as soon as she was charged led to guilty pleas by other participants. After she expressed deep remorse, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan agreed to let her off with no jail time.
“I truly apologize,” Kpana told the judge in front of a courtroom packed with her family and supporters. “I made a mistake. I lost my Christian way.” She burst into tears when the judge said she wasn’t going to prison.
Nathan put Kpana on probation for two years, imposed a $5,000 fine and ordered restitution of $796,427. Advisory federal sentencing guidelines called for Kpana to receive 46 to 57 months in prison.
According to court filings, Kpana graduated from the teachers college in 2009 but kept receiving aid until 2017, and she later got her nursing degree from Rutgers. Her lawyer said the case could potentially put her nursing license at risk.
Williams-Bethea, 49, of Springfield Gardens, Queens, was sentenced to 40 months in prison. Two students involved in the kickback scheme who did not cooperate were sentenced respectively to a year and a day in prison and to three months in prison.
The college, in a letter filed by its law firm with the judge, said the scam in aggregate caused $2 million in losses and damaged its finances, reputation and “sense of trust,” and called for sentences “commensurate with the substantial damage.”