"I think as of yesterday some 800 students have contacted us," says Hoyer from his office in Tampa. "Sixty former employees of Westwood have also come to us. They have no skin in the game other than to come forward and tell us what happened. In all the cases I have done I have never seen this many former employees come forward."
"It's not just kids - there are a lot of military people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan spending their GI bill benefits. And there are a lot of single mothers trying to get an education and build a foundation for themselves"According to the class action filed by James, Hoyer, Newcomer & Smiljanich on behalf of group of former students, Westwood uses deceptive tactics and misrepresentations and a high-pressure sales scheme to convince students to enroll at the college.
"They tell potential students that within a few months 85 percent of its students have jobs and are making $80,000 a year," says Hoyer. "And everybody gets an A, just to keep them in the program."
Westwood College students soon find out that courses are non-accredited and that the degree they are working towards is useless and they are saddled with loans with government loans of $40,000 to $80,000. The promised job placements never materialize.
''Typically they get halfway through or part way through, when they already owe $40,000 and find out it is not accredited," says Hoyer. "Then they have a tough choice: Do they drop out and start out all over again carrying $40,000 loan, or do they go all the way through knowing what their fate is?"
Hoyer says Westwood College is a relatively smaller player in the for-profit college industry.
"There are hundreds of these colleges, and there is $20 billion in federal aid going into these places. The business model is get people to sign up for federal loans. It is not unlike the subprime mortgage collapse. They whole deal is to get them to sign up – you don't carry risk – just get them to sign up."
Hoyer describes Westwood College as a kind of boiler room sales operation that spends millions on advertising and employees 300 to 500 fulltime telemarketers that pitch to potential students non-stop across the US.
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Hoyer hopes the suit will "get most of students' debt extinguished" and put an end to the collection calls coming from the federal government loan department.
"What we are trying to do is get that debt off their shoulders," he says.
Chris Hoyer is a senior partner with James, Hoyer, Newcomer & Smiljanich. He is a former Assistant US State Attorney in Tampa, Florida. He also served as a trial attorney with the US Justice Department Strike Force on Organized Crime. The firm focuses on complex fraud litigation on behalf of consumers and acts for whistleblowers.
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