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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, August 13, 2019 5:30 pm

Mastermind behind tuition assistance scheme gets 1 year in prison

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne man who masterminded a scheme that prosecutors said defrauded a defense contractor of more than $800,000 was ordered Tuesday to spend a year in federal prison. 

Robin C. Opper, 36, also has to pay back $566,618.50 to BAE Systems, a subsidiary of a British defense contractor with offices near Fort Wayne International Airport. 

Opper worked at BAE from 2013 to 2016 and took advantage of a tuition assistance program that provided upfront payments to workers who submitted requests. He stole $37,500 for himself and helped about 20 other employees net about $530,000. 

Thirty other former BAE workers have admitted to their roles in the scheme, and Opper pleaded guilty in May 2018 to wire fraud. He was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne. 

"This sentence sends a clear message that the FBI will aggressively pursue those who commit financial fraud and vigorously investigate this criminal activity," said Grant Mendenhall, special agent in charge of the agency's Indianapolis office. "The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to use all the resources at our disposal to ensure those who believe they can profit from others face the full consequences of their actions."

The former employees – most of whom have been sentenced to probation and ordered to pay back the money they stole – used proprietary software to make it look like they registered for and took college classes. But none did.

Amounts stolen by individual employees ranged from $6,750 to $55,056, according to criminal complaints. 

A former Marine and member of the Army National Guard who served two combat tours in Iraq, Opper could have been sentenced to more than four years behind bars. 

A sentencing memorandum filed last year by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey Speith called for a 41- to 51-month prison term. Defense attorney Albert Anzini countered in a separate memorandum, arguing incarceration would negatively impact his three children. 

Anzini's memorandum sought "community confinement or home detention" and includes letters of support from the mothers of the children, Opper's mother, friends, co-workers and his former boss at BAE. 

Judge Holly Brady handed down the sentence. 

"We, along with our law enforcement partners, take financial fraud seriously and will take measures to obtain restitution for the victim of these offenses," U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II said in a statement. 

mleblanc@jg.net