ATLANTA – A former Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA) counselor has been charged with forging educational records and creating fake students with non-existent disabilities and illnesses in an elaborate, multi-year scheme to steal more than $1.3 million.
From May 2016 to November 2020, Karen C. Lyke, 37, of Toledo, Ohio, and a close relative allegedly conspired to steal money from the GVRA by claiming educational expenses for 13 fake students. Lyke and the relative used the names of actual friends and relatives as the names of the fake disabled students seeking tuition assistance from the agency.
“Through her alleged scheme, Karen Lyke targeted money meant for those with disabilities trying to improve their lives,” said Keri Farley, special agent in Charge of the FBI’s Atlanta office.
“Not only is theft of government money a serious crime that will be vigorously investigated, but all too often it also deprives our most vulnerable citizens of vital assistance,” added Georgia State Inspector General Scott McAfee.
“[The Georgia Office of Inspector General] will continue to uphold the integrity of state programs and ensure taxpayer dollars are used for their intended purpose.”
Lyke and her relative allegedly created fake medical records to make it appear that the 13 fake students qualified for tuition assistance from the GVRA. They claimed these fake students suffered from disabilities or illnesses like AIDS, cancer, psychosocial impairments, or muscular dystrophy.
As proof of identification, they provided the GVRA with manufactured images of fake driver’s licenses that listed the names of their friends and relatives.
They then used photo-editing software to alter authentic college transcripts, financial aid reports, and proofs of registration from actual GVRA clients to support claims that the fake students attended schools including Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, or the University of Georgia. Lyke then allegedly uploaded the sham driver’s licenses, transcripts, financial aid reports, and other documentation into the GVRA’s electronic database.
Based on the false documentation, Lyke caused more than 230 checks to be mailed to the 13 friends and relatives for claimed educational expenses.
After Lyke left the GVRA in March 2019, she and her relative allegedly continued to submit forged paperwork to the GVRA for non-existent educational expenses. Based on the false submissions, the GVRA continued to issue checks to the fake students for bogus educational expenses.
The two used the stolen GVRA funds to pay for various personal expenses, including cars, jewelry, high-end guitars, and the down payment on a new home. In total, based on the false documentation they created, the GVRA mailed more than 230 checks to Lyke and her relative.
Between August 2016 and February 2019, the two also allegedly conspired to steal several high-value computers from the GVRA.
Lyke arranged for at least six computers to be shipped to her attention at the GVRA office in Norcross. She and her relative then sold at least five of the computers on eBay and kept one for personal use.
The computers and various accessories were worth about $32,000.
In connection with the computer thefts, Lyke is charged with one count of conspiring to commit federal program theft. She has stated her intent to plead guilty to the charge.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.