SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A former Cornell University student has pleaded guilty to student loan fraud after years of forging documents to get into universities.
Cavya Chandra, 26, of Carmel, Indiana, admitted to gaining admission to and attending three universities — Cornell, Carnegie Mellon and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis — between 2008 and 2014 by forging documents. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Chandra forged academic transcripts and letters of recommendation.
She pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court in Syracuse to fraudulently accepting federal student loan money while attending Cornell.
In 2008, Chandra was denied admission to the freshman class of Cornell. After that, she applied to Carnegie Mellon University with a forged letter of recommendation from a high school teacher. The university was unaware of the forgery and admitted her as a student in 2009, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
During Chandra’s second semester at Carnegie Mellon, she applied for admission to Cornell as a transfer student. In her transfer application, she submitted a forged transcript that said she received a perfect 4.0 GPA, even though she had really received a 2.79 that semester. Chandra also submitted a forged transcript inflating her high school grades, as well as another forged recommendation letter, she admitted.
Chandra was accepted to Cornell and started in the fall 2010 semester. While enrolled at Cornell, she received more than $130,000 in financial aid. Most was federal direct student loan money from the U.S. Department of Education. Cornell also provided grant assistance while she was a student.
According to a page on the College of Human Ecology website at Cornell, at one time Chandra was an undergraduate research assistant in the Cornell Infant Studies Lab. She majored in biology and society.
While Chandra was still at Cornell, she began applying for medical school through the American Medical College Application Service. In that application, she again forged transcripts, this time from Carnegie Mellon and Cornell, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
AMCAS suspected that Chandra had submitted fraudulent transcripts and Cornell launched an investigation. During this investigation, Cornell uncovered Chandra’s previous admissions fraud. When confronted, Chandra admitted that she falsified information. She was expelled from Cornell in November 2013.
The story does not end there.
After Chandra’s expulsion from Cornell, she applied for admission as a transfer student to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. While applying, Chandra again submitted forged copies of her Carnegie Mellon and Cornell transcripts. Both had falsely inflated grades. IUPUI admitted Chandra as a transfer student and gave her credit for classes she did not actually take or pass at Cornell. IUPI conferred a bachelor’s degree on Chandra in 2015. However, when Chandra’s fraud came to light the following year, the degree was rescinded.
After pleading guilty to student loan fraud, Chandra could face up to on year in prison, a fine of up to $100,000 and a term of supervised release of up to one year. In her plea agreement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is recommending that the judge impose a sentence of five years of probation. During that, Chandra would be required to disclose her plea agreement and criminal conviction to any universities she attends while on probation. She would also have to repay her outstanding financial aid balance of $70,145 to Cornell, plus a fine of $1,000.
A date has not been set for her sentencing.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education-Office of Inspector General with assistance from Cornell University, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry.