Ohio: Judge sentences man in tutoring scam

A Somali man who ran a scam tutoring company for needy Franklin County students was sentenced to 13 months in prison today on federal charges of falsifying invoices and stealing students’ identities.

Ashkir Ali, 46, of Balsam Lake Drive on the East Side, pleaded guilty in November to the charges. He faced as many as seven years in prison.

“I’m not coming back here,” Ali told U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. “I’ve learned my lesson.”

Sargus ordered Ali to pay $115,916 in restitution and to serve 13 months in a federal prison and five months in a half-way house. He said a mandatory two-year prison sentence for identity theft was reduced because of Ali’s “substantial assistance” in investigating tutoring fraud.

Ali was indicted more than a year ago after a two-year investigation of his company, WAISS Network Technologies, by the Ohio auditor’s office.

The probe revealed that WAISS made $100,000 from Columbus and $20,000 from South-Western city schools as part of the federal “supplemental educational services” tutoring program, mandated by the No Child Left Behind law.

The program, which had little oversight from the state and schools, was shut down after the 2011-12 school year.

The indictment against Ali said his company charged Columbus schools $55 to $65 an hour for tutoring between September 2007 and January 2012.

Jim Longerbone, who investigated the case when he worked for the auditor’s office, said in November that Ali billed Columbus for students he never tutored or tutored infrequently. None of the South-Western students Ali claimed he tutored received tutoring, Longerbone said.

Ali also forged the signatures of tutors and students’ parents on forms he submitted to the schools.

The case is just one of several the state auditor’s office investigated.

Mike Spiert, the auditor’s chief investigator, said today that a large-scale investigation into tutoring in schools continues. He would not provide details.

“The important thing here is that the children in the program are the victims, because they needed tutoring and didn’t get it,” he said.

Ali came to the United States in 1997 as a political refugee and is a permanent U.S. resident, Sargus said. He could be deported to Somalia after his prison term because he has been convicted of an aggravated felony, according to his plea agreement.