Friday, January 15, 2021

Chasing Carl Barney: My 7-Year Fight for Student Justice and Corporate Accountability (Debbi Potts)

It was July 16, 2012 and I called a meeting with all of my staff.  I was the campus director of CollegeAmerica in Cheyenne Wyoming; one of the many campuses owned by Carl Barney. I called the meeting to inform my staff that I was resigning that day. I wanted to let them know before I emailed a resignation letter to Barney and the CEO and COO and left the building.  

The Dean of Education (Linda) also resigned that day because of her concerns about the lack of ethics of the company. My exit was abrupt, and my resignation letter called Barney out on the fraud that his organization is infested with. I left without notice and without a job to go to.

I told my staff that there comes a time in most people’s lives where you cannot put your foot over the line and that day had come for me. I could not put my name on one more enrollment agreement or participate in the fleecing of students.  

This is my story of the 7-year chase of Carl Barney as he levied a brutal, retaliatory, and relentless plan to silence me.  

Who is Carl Barney?

Carl Barney is a college owner who has turned his private colleges into money making machines for the benefit of his own wealth. His schools were a toxic blend of substandard education, outrageously high tuition, and poor outcomes that left students deep in debt with little to no skills or hope for a better future. The demographic of most of the students that were solicited to enroll lacked the ability to succeed; but that did not matter.

Why did I leave the company and how bad was it?

I was so excited to be part of changing student’s lives through education and taking the role of the top administrator of my own campus. Career schools are high priced and fast paced and unfortunately this one was not about the education of students; it was about sales and enrolling students and pulling down as much federal aid as you could to line Barney’s pockets.  As time went on it was evident that the company had no regard for oversight of rules or regulations that guide these types of schools; nor had they ever been held accountable for their blatant contempt.

An associate degree was upwards of $40k and a bachelor degree was $78k! The students were solicited through a hard sell of manipulative sales techniques and the education and equipment left much to be desired. The students struggled in 4-week courses where the mid-term was at the beginning of week 3.  The faculty who were mostly all adjuncts and were paid less than $10.00 per hour considering the time they put into lecturing, grading papers and coaching students who needed remedial help before they could even comprehend the course materials.

The company was “enrollment driven” with unrealistic goals every month of starting new students. It is called “greed” at the expense of education. Barney’s motto was “We do as we please and ask for forgiveness later.” Accreditation standards were violated throughout the entire system and the students were the ones who suffered.

An example of disregard for regulations

Barney could not operate his company by merely offering a quality education and focusing on students; he always had to have a scheme to entice and enroll students, even if it were a violation of accreditation. He rolled out a free services program where he decided to offer a free certified nursing course to the general public including all of the books, supplies and certification.  Sounds amazingly generous..right? Not so fast. This particular course was part of the medical assisting program and Barney believed that once he gave away “free” services, those students would enroll in the full program. The problem was that each of those students had a target on their back and they were heavily recruited to enroll into the full program. There were literally waiting lists of hundreds of potential enrollees across all of the campuses. Barney never bothered to get this stand-alone course approved through accreditation. Since this course was vocational in nature we also were required to track student completion and placement; that never happened.

Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), the accrediting agency issued a “cease and desist” of these programs, leaving hundreds and hundreds of students hanging and angry and disillusioned. Campus directors were left on their own to try to explain this deplorable situation to our unsuspecting victims.

What happened next?

Linda and I immediately contacted the Wyoming and Colorado Attorneys Generals offices in order to divulge the numerous issues of consumer fraud that we had witnessed. 

I received a personal phone call from Barney a day after my exit. He was definitely on a fishing expedition that was intended to figure out what my plans were moving forward. In that conversation I reported to Barney that the company had owed me $7,000.00 for earned but not paid bonuses. He assured me that he would look into my unpaid bonus. Days went by and I decided to file for lost wages through the Wyoming employment labor board.

On July 21, 2012. I received an email from Barney, and it contained a document entitled “Saying Goodbye” which outlined his theory that you can tell a great deal about the character of people by the way they say goodbye. Additionally, he spewed that he hoped that I had filed a written report within the organization with my concerns about the fraud allegations or I was now a contributor to these allegations of fraud!  

I received my bonus in exchange for signing a contract to not disparage the company.

During the months that followed, I was in direct contact with the Attorneys General. In a LinkedIn communication with a former employee of the organization and I asked him to cooperate with the Attorneys General. The employee turned on me and turned the correspondence into Barney. I was sued for an alleged violation of the contract. I represented myself over a two-year period and wrote 75 legal motions to defend myself.  I filed a charge with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who took a case against them on my behalf. 

It was around that time that I met an attorney from Salt Lake City, Utah who had been enjoined by the US Department of Justice in a qui-tam action with several former employees of Barney’s Utah schools because Barney was illegally paying bonuses to admissions recruiters.

Mr. Bandon Mark, this attorney took my case pro-bono and followed me through depositions and court hearings for several years for the lawsuit, while EEOC pursued Barney in federal court.

The entire purpose of this retaliation by Barney was to punish me and intimidate me into silence…it did not work!  The more relentless he became, the more the fraud became public, he would not agree to settle anything, and neither would I.

In May of 2019, a jury of 6 people in a two-day trial awarded Barney $1.00 (instead of the $7,000.00 bonus he was trying to recoup). This was the least amount the jury could give! 

The Colorado Attorney General’s office testified on my behalf as an optic to show the jury what this malicious lawsuit was really about. As icing on the cake, EEOC forced Barney to never enforce the illegal contract they had issued me. The contract violated public policy by requiring me to not contact any governmental agencies with grievances against Barney or his schools. 

What started out as Barney attempting to make an example out of me for speaking the truth about the fraud in his schools actually opened the doors for me to spend 7 years chasing him.

As a result of this chase, I have been deposed numerous times including a 6-hour videotaped deposition all the while his attorneys spewed venom in my face in an attempt to intimidate me. I was scorned publicly in courtrooms for being a whistleblower…none of that mattered.

Barney’s feeble attempt to stop me from bringing truth forward only made the chase more enticing and his fury caused him to make many mistakes including spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees against me.  His desire to make me pay only served to make public what he had tried to stop me from saying! 

Fruits of my chase:

At the trial where Barney sued me in May 2019; the courtroom was filled with people who got to hear the fraud that Barney had tried to keep silent by suing me! This is in the community where I reside, and community members are now aware of the fraud.  

On August 21, 2020, a Colorado Court issued a fraud finding against Barney in a lawsuit where the Colorado Attorney General was the plaintiff, and I was the whistleblower.  

I have interviewed with US Department of Justice for an upcoming trial against Barney for illegal bonuses.

I have filed numerous complaints with their accreditor. (ACCSC)

I have interviewed with Veterans Education Success as part of their petition to the VA to cease funding to Barney’s schools.

I have participated in a podcast about my whistleblowing story with Heidi Weber who was responsible for the demise of Globe University with her whistleblowing efforts of their fraud. 

I have personally filed a complaint with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG). 

I have interviewed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and provided information regarding their investigation of loan fraud regarding Barney’s schools. 

My story has been covered and publicized by David Halperin in Republic Report. Not just once, but twice

I have also been interviewed by David Halperin in Republic Report


Indeed …Barney’s schools are in peril

The following are on-going actions of great consequence:

·       The company is on probation with ACCSC and serious question are pending regarding the ability of Barney’s schools to continue to operate as a result of the Colorado Attorney fraud finding.

·       The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is awaiting a court decision to move forward to compel documents related to loan fraud.

·       The US Department of Education in tandem with some former employees are in the “discovery stage” of litigation regarding illegal bonuses Barney paid to recruiters.

·       Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois has petitioned the United States Department of Education to look at the possibility of suspending federal funds to Barney’s schools.

·       Due to declining enrollment, the lion’s share of Barney’s brick and mortar schools are closed, leaving only an online school platform which has its own issues with ACCSC. 

I will continue the chase wherever and whenever I can be helpful in fighting the fraud of Carl Barney in order to prevent more students from being harmed.   

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