Two high-level administrators with Louisiana State University at Eunice pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday for stealing close to $160,000 in federal grant funds intended for Upward Bound and Student Services projects.

According to a press release from U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finely’s office, the theft involved LSU-E Office of Academic Affairs Director Dr. Marvette J. Thomas and Carra Sergeant, assistant director of academic affairs. Appearing in federal court Thursday, Thomas, 60, of Grambling, and Sergeant, 60, of Ragley, pleaded guilty to theft of government funds before U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote.

According to Finley’s office, the scheme transpired between Sept. 2008 and Feb. 2012, during which time, they, along with additional co-workers under their watch, illegally spent more than $159,000 on items such as “clothes, shoes, handbags, cosmetics, jewelry, children’s clothing, personal electronic devices, cookware, tools, toys, recreational vehicle parts, pet supplies, household items, outdoor items, exercise equipment, religious books and gifts.”

“These federal programs exist so that individuals can pursue and make their dream of a higher education a reality,” says U.S. Department of Education/Office of Inspector General special agent Neil E. Sanchez in Thursday’s release. “That’s why OIG special agents will continue to aggressively pursue those who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of our nation’s students.”

Estimates by LSU auditors, FBI agents and officials with the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Inspector General, show $68,464 of the stolen federal money was spent by Thomas, $74,653 by Sergeant, and the remaining $16,050 by unnamed co-workers. According to Thursday’s press release, Thomas and Sergeant did attempt covering their tracks by “altering receipts and submitting false records.”

“The defendants in this case were entrusted with managing funds that were supposed to benefit students seeking to expand their education,” Finley stated in Thursday's release. “They now potentially face years in jail, fines and other penalties for their actions. We will continue to pursue cases where taxpayer money is used for personal benefit.”

At their sentencing, set for Dec. 12, Thomas and Sergeant will face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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