New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal seeks active role in ED investigations

Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General of NJ, speaks at Seton Hall Law School

New Jersey state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, the first Sikh American Attorney General in the U.S., voiced concern May 17 about the Department of Education effectively shutting down investigations into fraudulent activity by private universities in the U.S., and offered to take over.

“If the federal government will not pursue these investigations wherever the facts and the law take them, let us pick up where you leave off,” wrote the Indian American. “Give the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office access to your department’s files,” he stated.

Gurbir Grewal, has sent a letter to Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos in which the NJ AG invites the ED to work with his office “to ensure that any investigations of fraudulent activities by educational institutions are completed properly, rather than ended prematurely or allowed to grow dormant.”

The New York Times noted in a May 13 story that members of a special team at the Education Department, who had been investigating widespread abuses by for-profit colleges, have been marginalized, reassigned or instructed to focus on other matters.

The NJ AG indicates that his invitation is intended to put to rest recent reports that the ED has discontinued investigations into potentially fraudulent activity at several large for-profit colleges and restricted communications between the ED’s staff and state AGs about such investigations.  He asserts that “[a]bandoning the Department’s cooperative relationships with State Attorneys General could only harm the public interest we should be working together to serve.”

The NJ AG asks the ED to let his office partner with the ED if it continues to pursue the investigations it “reportedly has (or had) in progress” or, if the ED will not pursue such investigations, to let his office “pick up where you leave off” and give it access to the ED’s files (claiming that his office can arrange to protect the confidentiality of any shared investigative files.)

Young adults from India comprise a majority of the student population at several of the private universities under investigation. Fraudulent universities – such as the now-shuttered Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, Calif., and suspected ‘visa mill’ Silicon Valley University in San Jose, Calif., – have often hastily been shut down leaving Indian students stranded, out of status, and deportable.

In a May 17 letter to DeVos, Grewal referenced The New York Times report, and added that the DoE has stymied state attorney generals’ efforts to investigate the sham colleges. “As you know, students and taxpayers alike are harmed when educational institutions fail to deliver what they advertise,” wrote Grewal in the letter to DeVos. “Too often, students spend their hard-earned money and take out significant loans only to find they did not receive the education they paid for and cannot get jobs to pay off their loans,” he said, noting that student loans are now the second-largest form of debt for Americans, overtaking auto loans and on pace with mortgages.

Grewal noted that the DoE has – in recent times – not cooperated with states’ efforts to get relief for students who are victims of their university’s malfeasance. He urged the secretary to “begin reviving our past cooperation.”

In his letter, Grewal said: “I hold out hope for the Department of Education to counter any perception it has abdicated its anti-fraud role by working with my office to ensure that any investigations of fraudulent activities by educational institutions are completed properly, rather than ended prematurely or allowed to grow dormant.”

According to a report on northjersey.com, Grewal asserted that New Jersey should be allowed to intervene in the suit as a defendant because terminating the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, would directly harm New Jersey and its residents. More than 17,000 New Jersey residents currently benefit from the program, whose participants are often referred to as “Dreamers.”

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