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Interim chancellor testifies in college probe

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Interim Chancellor Thomas Corts testified Friday before a federal grand jury probing the state’s two-year college system.

Corts, who declined to give details of his testimony, is the latest college system official to appear before the grand jury. Prosecutors have filed indictments and accepted plea agreements in five cases related to issues at the Alabama Fire College.

Others who have testified before the grand jury have said they were asked about contracts, jobs given to relatives of fired Chancellor Roy Johnson and actions by other system officials, The Birmingham News reported Saturday.

Corts also told state school board members this week that he is sending an investigative team to Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa. A similar team sent to Bishop State Community College last year discovered a number of financial problems at that school in Mobile. Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson on Friday announced the arrest of seven more suspects on theft charges in the continuing probe of Bishop State’s financial aid office, including women’s basketball coach Elston Turner and his wife, Yolanda J. Johnson.

The couple were charged with two counts each of first-degree theft by deception. The charge is a felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. They are accused of stealing federal financial aid and money from the National Youth Sports Program, or NYSP.

The program’s Web site lists Turner as project administrator for its Bishop State branch. NYSP is for children 10-16, providing them instruction in math, reading, science, drug education and sports.

Johnson is charged with the theft of a combined $19,758 in federal aid and NYSP money. Turner is accused of aiding in the theft of $15,806 of that amount.

Six other suspects were arrested last fall. Prosecutors allege a student loan theft scheme netted more than $131,000.

The FBI has joined the Bishop State probe. FBI spokesman Joseph T. White would not say when the bureau began its inquiry.

“We have an ongoing investigation on multiple fronts involving Bishop State,” White told the Press-Register for a story Saturday. “I can’t go into any details about it.”

Bishop State spokesman Herb Jordan said Bishop State President Yvonne Kennedy would not be available for comment on the latest arrests.

In September, Alabama’s two-year college system released a report detailing “grade fraud” and “virtually nonexistent” supervision of the Bishop State financial aid system. The U.S. Department of Education has placed the college on “heightened cash monitoring” and demanded the return of $150,000 in aid money.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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