SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A former Cornell University student was sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay back thousands in restitution to Cornell after committing student loan fraud and forging her way into several universities.
Cavya Chandra, 26, of Carmel, Indiana, was sentenced Monday in federal court in Syracuse. She pleaded guilty in October to fraudulently accepting federal student loan money while attending Cornell.
Chandra admitted to gaining admission to and attending three universities, including Cornell, Carnegie Mellon and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, between 2008 and 2014 by forging documents, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The forged documents included inflated academic transcripts and letters of recommendation.
Related: Former Cornell student pleads guilty to student loan fraud after trail of forged documents uncovered
In a statement following the sentencing hearing, U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith said, “Whatever pressure students feel to get into a particular school, it cannot justify fraud. We maximize opportunities for higher education by maintaining the integrity of financial aid programs, including taking action against dishonesty.”
It took years of forged transcripts and letters before anyone suspected Chandra, records from the U.S. Attorney’s Office show.
Chandra was denied admission to the freshman class of Cornell in 2008. After being denied, she applied — and was accepted — to Carnegie Mellon University with a forged letter of recommendation from a high school teacher.
During her second semester at Carnegie Mellon, she applied for admission at Cornell as a transfer student. In that application, she submitted a forged transcript that said she received a perfect 4.0 GPA, though she had really received a 2.79 that semester, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. With forged transcripts and a forged recommendation letter, she was admitted to Cornell and started in the Fall 2010 semester.
While enrolled at Cornell, Chandra received more than $130,000 in financial aid, much of which was federal direct student loan money from the U.S. Department of Education. Cornell also provided grant funding assistance while she was a student there.
It wasn’t until Chandra began the process of applying for medical school in 2013 that someone began to suspect her. As part of that application, she again submitted forged transcripts. The American Medical College Application Service reported to Cornell that they suspected her transcripts were fake, and in response Cornell launched an internal investigation and uncovered the fraud.
When confronted, Chandra admitted that she had falsified information. She was expelled from Cornell in November 2013.
Chandra’s expulsion from Cornell was not the end of her forging documents, however. She applied to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis as a transfer student, submitting forged transcripts from Cornell and Carnegie Mellon. IUPUI admitted her and gave her credit for a number of classes she did not actually take or pass and she graduated from IUPUI in 2015.
However, when Chandra’s fraud came to light the next year, IUPUI rescinded her degree.
On Monday in Syracuse, Chandra was sentenced to serve a five-year term of probation, pay a fine of $1,000 and ordered to pay more than $70,000 in restitution to Cornell.
As part of her probation, she is required to disclose her plea agreement and criminal conviction to any universities she attends; disclose any new application for financial aid to her probation officer; and abide by an existing repayment plan with Cornell.
In a statement, Jason Locke, vice provost for enrollment, said Cornell is happy with the outcome of the case.
“We are pleased with the outcome of this criminal investigation which culminated in the defendant’s plea agreement taking responsibility for her wrongful acts. Restitution of the financial aid she wrongfully received while at Cornell will enable deserving students to continue to receive financial support for education at Cornell,” Locke said.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General with assistance from Cornell University, and it was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael F. Perry.