Ex-Ascension College owners accused of fraud

Three former owners of defunct Ascension College in Gonzales signed a court-filed request Wednesday that would end federal attorneys’ civil fraud allegations against them in return for $250,000.

East Baton Rouge Parish residents Dennis Kerr, with sons Fred “Randy” Kerr and Darryl Kerr, owned and operated Ascension College before it closed in August 2010, according to a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday by U.S. Attorney Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. and Assistant U.S. Attorney James L. Nelson.

The private, for-profit business and technical school lost access to federal grants and loans from the U.S. Department of Education over allegations that it kept and spent grants and loans it received for students who had either transferrred from or dropped out of Ascension College.

When the 20-year-old school closed, Dennis Kerr was its president. Randy Kerr was the school’s administrator.

But the government’s suit focused most intently on Darryl Kerr as the alleged “chief protagonist of the fraudulent conduct because it was he who exercised principal … control over Ascension College’s books.”

The suit filed by Cazayoux and Nelson also alleged Darryl Kerr “chiefly devised and carried out the scheme to keep two separate sets of books and records in an attempt to obfuscate the fraudulent conduct” from Education Department officials.

Cazayoux and Nelson added, however, that “Dennis Kerr and Fred ‘Randy’ Kerr were personally aware of Darryl Kerr’s fraudulent conduct, allowed such conduct to continue without cessation, and personally benefitted from such conduct in the form of salaries.”

The alleged bogus book entries were made for calendar years 2007 through 2010, according to the federal government’s suit.

The suit mentions, by initials only, 19 students whose federal grants and loans were spent by Ascension College officials after those students were no longer enrolled.

For example, student T.R. received $1,577 in grants and $1,581 in Education Department loans while she attended Ascension College, where certification programs included those of medical and dental assistant, licensed practical nurse and office administrator, the suit states.

After student T.R. left Ascension College, the government suit alleges, the three Kerr defendants wrongly used another $1,577 in grants and $2,255 in loans earmarked for her use.

Under the consent judgment that federal attorneys and the Kerrs are asking U.S. District Judge James J. Brady to approve, Dennis Kerr would pay $37,500 to the federal government. Fred “Randy” Kerr would pay $62,500. Darryl Kerr would pay $150,000.

Brady’s approval of the proposed judgment would end the civil suit, the federal attorneys and the Kerrs said in their joint motion to the judge.

Ascension College was not the first school to fail under the Kerrs’ watch.

In 2009, Savannah River College in Augusta, Ga., closed its doors for financial reasons. That college was operated by Dennis Kerr Enterprises and run by President Darryl Kerr.

At Ascension College nearly three years ago, more than 130 students, some of them nearing graduation, were left without degrees by the school’s closure.