The Latest: Official from Columbia U. affiliate out on bail

The Latest on arrests in a financial aid scandal at Columbia University's Teachers College (all times local):

5:45 p.m.

The former head of financial aid at Columbia University's Teachers College who was arrested on conspiracy and bribery charges has been released on $50,000 bail.

Melanie Williams-Bethea appeared in Manhattan federal court Thursday after authorities charged her with making over $350,000 illegally. Authorities say she teamed up with three students to submit false claims and qualify them for hundreds of thousands of dollars to which they would otherwise not be entitled. The students were arrested as well.

Authorities say the students gave Williams-Bethea kickbacks between 2008 and 2017 after they received financial aid. An attorney for Williams-Bethea declined to comment.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman says the defendants falsified documents to make it seem they were destitute.

The school says it unearthed the scam last spring and alerted investigators.


4:45 p.m. A spokesman for Columbia University's Teachers College says the criminal prosecution of a former employee and three others came after the school found irregularities in its disbursements of financial aid.

The spokesman, James Gardner, says Thursday that an internal probe was launched last spring after irregularities were discovered pertaining to the financial aid of several students. He says the probe identified improper actions by a single staff member. Gardner says the school is deeply distressed over the betrayal of trust.

Gardner spoke hours after Melanie Williams-Bethea was arrested on conspiracy, bribery and fraud charges. Investigators say Williams-Bethea made at least $350,000 illegally in the scam while the students received hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid they should not have gotten.

It was not immediately clear who will represent Williams-Bethea in court.


2:30 p.m.

Federal authorities say a former official at Columbia University's Teachers College carried out a decades-long scheme that dished out hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid in exchange for kickbacks from unqualified students.

Melanie Williams-Bethea was arrested Thursday along with three other defendants.

In a criminal complaint, authorities said Williams-Bethea worked as director of financial aid at one of the university's graduate schools while carrying out the scam from 2008 to 2017.

It says one student received nearly $1 million in stipends, scholarships and loans over a period of years — not all of it legitimately.

It says the school fired her after discovering the alleged wrongdoing.

A message requesting comment from Columbia was not immediately returned. It was not immediately clear who will represent Williams-Bethea in Manhattan federal court.