14 charged in alleged ‘sham’ school scheme

Fourteen Southern California residents have been charged with involvement in two “sham” schools allegedly funded with fraudulent workers compensation claims that cost insurance carriers more than $22 million, prosecutors said.

The defendants were charged in three separate cases on counts of conspiracy, insurance fraud, receiving kickbacks and illegally paying for referrals, the Riverside County district attorney’s office announced Friday.

Oswaldo Forero, 65, of Irvine is listed as president and chief executive of a for-profit vocational school, Ryon College in Riverside.

Forero and the school’s vice president, Melbe Zepeda, 41, of Bellflower, allegedly paid numerous “cappers” to recruit students who had Supplemental Job Displacement vouchers meant to help them reenter the workforce after injuries, according to prosecutors.


Some of the students lacked a high school diploma or other prerequisites, prosecutors alleged.

Forero and Zepeda employed a similar scheme at another vocational school, Sutech School in Los Angeles, according to prosecutors.

They are accused of overbilling for laptops, cashing in vouchers from students who didn’t attend classes, faking admissions test results and paying cash in exchange for vouchers, which ranged in value from $6,000 to $10,000.

“We are not making any comments on the matter at this time,” said Melissa Weinberger, an attorney for Forero.

Zepeda’s attorney, Richard Moss, could not be reached for comment.

The other 12 defendants range in age from 29 to 65 and come from all over the region, including San Diego, Diamond Bar, Sherman Oaks and Moreno Valley.

Arraignments will begin this week and continue through March.