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Grand Jury Indicts Ex-ECU Financial Aid Official

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GREENVILLE, N.C. — A grand jury has indicted a former East Carolina University financial aid administrator accused of conspiring with students to issue financial aid in exchange for cash.

Debra Cherry Albritton, 52, faces one count of felony conspiracy and two counts of obtaining property in excess of $100,000 by false pretense, according to indictments handed up Monday in Pitt County.

Two former students -- Michael Elliott Smith, 25, and Keith Peten, 41 -- were also charged in the scheme, which State Bureau of Investigation officials said occurred between June 2002 and December 2004.

Albritton was an assistant director in the student financial aid office when Smith and Peten were students. She retired in June 2005, university officials said.

Smith told the Greenville Daily Reflector that he found students to enlist in the scheme by offering them a way to get financial aid. Smith said the students would get a check from the financial aid office but would have to pay back some of the money to him, as well as to Peten and Albritton.

Albritton couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, and Peten declined comment.

University communications Executive Director John Durham said the school looked forward to resolving the issue in court but declined further comment about the case.

He did, however, say that university officials were happy they discovered the alleged scheme at a fairly early stage. A tip, Durham said, sparked a joint investigation by the university's Office of Internal Audit and the SBI.

As a result of the investigation, ECU has added more checks and balances and now requires more documentation before awarding financial aid, Durham said.

"We think we're in better shape than we were a couple of years ago," he said.

University officials said it does not appear any qualified student lost money in the scheme.