Meet the Law Student at the Center of Howard’s Financial Aid Scandal

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You may have heard about the scandal that is currently rocking the world of higher ed: Lindsay Lohan’s deeply head-scratching, digitally head-dressed declaration that she was admitted to Harvard Law. Nope, sorry, I’m just getting word from the editor’s desk that Lindsay Lohan is now just a piece of early aughts detritus, like bootcut jeans or Pete Wentz, that has left only the faintest impression on the public consciousness.

The real issue de jour, of course, is the financial aid scandal that prompted the ongoing student protests at the prestigious Howard University. The students of Howard University, led by the student group HU Resist, have occupied the campus’s main administrative building, and have been protesting for the past eight days.

What provoked such extended protests? Well, an internal review of the financial aid office at Howard University suggested that, in the words of University President Wayne Frederick, “there may have been some misappropriation of University-provided financial aid funds.” Apparently, the audit revealed that six financial aid staffers who also received tuition waivers to attend the university were skimming from the top of the funds they managed. These funds, mind you, were earmarked as need-based grants for other students. Careful not to incur the wrath of the feds or donors, Frederick insisted that none of the skimming lapped up any federal or donor funds.

That said, “skimming” might be putting it lightly; altogether, the six staffers allegedly embezzled over $1 million from these funds. Like, they were not discreet about this. Most need-based grants for a student top out around $5000 a semester. These staffers were allegedly taking hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a small miracle or a huge act of bureaucratic oversight that the university officials or the IRS or, like, these staffers’ consciences didn’t see this as a red flag.

Anyway, Howard students were understandably peeved that money intended for low-income students was taken so brazenly by university staff — especially when Howard has pretty strict requirements on how much debt must be paid off before registering for a class. The students responded by protesting the university’s administration. The students used the protest to make major demands of the university, including improved housing and an end to rising tuition. Which … umm … might be sort of hard to obtain, given that Howard University is down about a million in funds right now.

Whatever may come of these protests, we’re here today to talk about a third year law student initially accused of being one of those six financial aid staffers: Howard’s third year law student Tyrone Hankerson, Jr.

OK, so let’s back up a bit. The financial aid scandal was first reported in an anonymous post on the public platform Medium. That post accused Hankerson of being one of the six financial aid staffers caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar. In fact, Hankerson was accused of stealing over $429,000. The post has since been deleted, but it’s not hard to see why Hankerson was accused. He worked at the financial aid office during the time the alleged embezzlement took place, and maintained social media accounts in which he flexed a fair bit more than average law student.

Although his social media accounts have been taken down since the scandal broke, here are some of the photos internet sleuths have found:

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Now, the typical law student doesn’t have money for mink coats, Gucci bags, leather jackets, Range Rovers, or an apparent photographer and media team to expand said law student’s personal brand.

Nor does the typical law student, burdened with finals and law review and externships and the general stress of law school life, jump like this:

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There are at least two possible explanations for Hankerson’s social media presence. Maybe he really did steal nearly half a mil, but then blew it all on fashion and then decided to be really, really bad at hiding that fact. Or, maybe he’s just guilty of a crime we could all be accused of: embellishing our lifestyles online.

We obviously have no idea if Hankerson was one of the staffers who stole all that money. Howard claims that the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act prevents the university from disclosing who exactly those staffers were, and Hankerson maintains his innocence. His defense is that his mother taught him to “ball on a budget.” We’re not sure that will hold up in court should he face criminal charges, but Hankerson and his attorney insist there were no improprieties.

So this saga is still unfolding, but is there anything we can learn from Hankerson right now? Well, I don’t have to tell you that studying for, applying to, and getting through law school is rough, and that it can be taxing, and that sometimes it can be sometimes feel like the trouble and stress outweigh the benefits. With the right attitude and maybe some felonious inclinations, however, every path along the way to becoming a lawyer is simply an obstacle you must finesse. If you ever feel like any one obstacle gets to be too much, try to imagine and embody the confidence of a person who can — after maybe stealing the money necessary to make this happen, mind you — assuredly stride to the next obstacle armed with a designer handbag and the mantra “another semester down, another bag secured.”

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