POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A former financial worker is accused of cheating the system at a Tampa Bay university to financially aid herself.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested Margaret “Peggy” Pilgram on grand theft and obtaining property by fraud charges.
Deputies also charged her ex-boyfriend Michael Montgomery, who was already in jail, on the same charges.
Pilgram, formerly Margaret Jackson, worked at Warner University for five years as a financial aid counselor. She resigned in 2016.
She eventually started dating Montgomery, who was in prison.
Montgomery is a sex offender following a sexual battery conviction. His criminal record includes several violent crimes including assault and armed robbery.
Sheriff Grady Judd said a few years ago, Pilgram was having a tough time.
She’s accused of enrolling Montgomery as a student at Warner University for the summer 2018 and spring 2019 terms.
She also completed a student loan application for him, which was approved, deputies said.
“Pilgram created an American Express Bluebird account, where the student loan check from Warner for $3,454 was deposited,” a press release sent by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said.
According to the sheriff’s office, Pilgram used Montgomery’s student email to communicate with the school and admitted to the fraud during recorded phone calls with Montgomery from prison.
“Ms. Jackson used the knowledge she gained from her position at Warner to manipulate the enrollment and financial aid systems at Warner,” wrote Warner University President Dr. David Hoag in a statement.
Dr. Hoag said the fraudulent activity was discovered through the university’s “normal checks and balances.”
Like many other area universities and colleges, Dr. Hoag said, the university does not run background checks for every applicant.
Answers to questions regarding the applicant’s criminal record were falsified, he said.
Dr. Hoag said the university will continue its internal audit and does not plan to take any new measures in the wake of Pilgram’s arrest.
According to Sheriff Judd, Warner University was notified about the fraud by Montgomery, who became upset that Pilgram had married someone.
“She got the money. He didn’t go to school and she married somebody else. If that’s not a mess, I don’t know what is,” said Sheriff Judd.
When asked about Warner University accepting an applicant with a criminal record like Montgomery’s, Sheriff Judd said people with a criminal history can go to college.
“Obviously Warner University would not be concerned with whether or not you’ve been to prison before because obviously the whole goal of the criminal justice system is that you improve your life and go with on with a good and a prosperous life without going on to jail,” he said.
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