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State Financial Crimes Unit Probes Academy of Nursing

State Financial Crimes Unit Probes Academy of Nursing



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state financial crimes unit has taken over the investigation of the Academy of Nursing, which previously was faulted for allegedly illegally collecting tuition and failing to refund students hundreds of thousands of dollars.

About 20 investigators spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the school, copying records to learn how much is owed, where the money went and whether fraud has occurred, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Thursday.

"We've given the state our full cooperation and access to the books," academy attorney Brian Barnhill told the newspaper. "We're confident they aren't going to see any criminal activity."

The Utah Consumer Protection Division began investigating the school in May after many students withdrew and were denied refunds. A subpoena of bank records revealed students had been required to pay in advance for the $17,000-plus tutoring program, contrary to state law.

At least 92 students took out loans through a school-sponsored program with Key Bank, which forwarded the entire amount of the loans to the academy, often before borrowers had completed a single class, the Tribune said.

In August, the school agreed to make monthly bank payments of $100,000 in order to avoid steep fines, but soon defaulted.

"We gave them every opportunity to come forward with something we could buy off on -- a plan to repay students and teach remaining students -- and we never saw that happening," said Francine Giani, the state's consumer protection director.

The state could revoke the academy's $185,000 bond, but the money would not come close to covering the debt to students.

The Academy's founders, Mark and Aaron Hansen, said previously that their financial problems were due to Excelsior College changing its entrance requirements. The Academy's main mission is to train students to enter the New York school and pass its tests.

There is no official connection between the two schools, and Excelsior is suing the Academy for copyright infringement.

The state previously was reported to be looking into whether the school continued to enroll students even after Excelsior changed its admission requirements.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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