Jail for Betsy Devos Over Corinthian Student Debt Collection?

Raise your hand if you’d risk jail time just to collect student debts from a bankrupt, discredited diploma-mill. Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Until 2015, when it lost its operator license in Canada, then got sued by multiple jurisdictions, then shut down completely and filed for bankruptcy, Corinthian College–which was based in Santa Ana–was one of the largest for-profit diploma mills in the nation. More than 80,000 students either paid big bucks or racked up huge debt to earn one of its now-worthless degrees.

In 2013, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris offered a very colorful description of Corinthian when her office sued the college for allegedly engaging in false and predatory advertising:

The predatory scheme devised by executives at Corinthian Colleges Inc. is unconscionable. Designed to rake in profits and mislead investors, they targeted some of our state’s most particularly vulnerable people– including low income, single mothers and veterans returning from combat.

What happened to Corinthian students was a nightmare, which U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim obviously understood when she ruled in June 2018 that the U.S. Department of Education was forbidden from trying to collect debt owed by former Corinthian students.

Like U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos cares.

On Oct. 8, Newsweek reported that Kim was “astounded” to discover that DeVos violated her order not once, not 10 times, but 16,000 times.

“Kim said she was ‘astounded’ to discover that DeVos was violating the court order at a hearing in San Francisco on Monday after a filing by the Education Department earlier disclosed that more than 16,000 former students at Corinthian College ‘were incorrectly informed at one time or another… that they had payments due on their federal student loans,'” Newsweek reported.

Judge Kim is enormously intelligent, but I really don’t get how this “astounded” her. DeVos owes her job to President Donald Trump, an orange ghoul whose only ideology is to poke everyone who stands politically to the left of Orrin Hatch in the eye, and keep poking until, well, no one really knows what comes after that. Trump is perfectly fine with immigration authorities separating children from the parents and then putting them in cages. You think that translates into an administration that respects a judge’s ruling?

Fairness, justice, “the law”–these concepts really don’t mean anything to Trump, and given how he values absolutely loyalty and fealty above everything else, it’s safe to say that DeVos doesn’t care either. Hell, her agency has already tried to ignore more than 160,000 applications for student debt relief–applications that otherwise would probably be accepted–because it can.

In any case, Newsweek reported that Kim mentioned that jail remains a possible way for her to get DeVos to respect her judicial orders.

“I’m not sure if this is contempt or sanctions,” Kim said, according to Newsweek. “I’m not sending anyone to jail yet but it’s good to know I have that ability.”

Officials with the Project on Predatory Student Lending, which formed in 2012 to advocate for students who’ve been victimized by predatory lenders, heartily agreed with Kim.

“The judge is taking this flagrant violation of borrowers’ rights extremely seriously,” said Project on Predatory Student Lending Director Toby Merrill in an Oct. 7 news release. “Secretary DeVos has repeatedly and brazenly violated the court’s order by collecting for-profit college student debts and denying their rights. Thousands of former Corinthian students had their tax refunds seized and wages garnished despite a court order not to collect anything from them. This behavior is illegal and should not be tolerated by the court. We agree with Judge Kim that there must be consequences for these astounding violations and we look forward to the judge’s ruling.”

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