Update: Law Enforcement Searches Eastern Gateway’s Steubenville Offices

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – Local, state and federal law enforcement officers and agents searched Eastern Gateway Community College’s main offices as part of an investigation Thursday.

The search included law enforcement from the state auditor’s special investigations unit, the U.S. Secret Service, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Ohio State Highway Patrol Computer Crimes Unit, Columbus Police Digital Forensics Unit and the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence.

Auditor Keith Faber said the warrants are “part of an investigation looking into matters that both have already been charged and are being prosecuted by our special prosecutors and other concerns about financial legal irregularities here at the college.”

A news release from the auditor’s office said the search warrants are separate from indictments in August of former college administrators.

A college spokesman said in a statement that Eastern Gateway is cooperating with the investigating agencies.

“We are cooperating with all agencies involved just as we have been open and transparent in our ongoing discussions with the U.S. Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Higher Education,” Dennis Willard said. “We are not prepared to comment further at this time.”

In August, Jimmie Bruce, former Eastern Gateway president, and James Miller, former vice president and chief of staff, were indicted by a Jefferson County grand jury on charges of grand theft, theft in office, telecommunications fraud, having an unlawful interest in a public contract and misuse of credit cards.

The college also has been dealing with financial and academic difficulties, stemming from the end of its free college programs.

“Our Auditor’s Office special investigation unit is a partnership between law enforcement officers, sworn peace officers and forensic auditors where we go in and track down financial irregularities and essentially check for people lying, stealing and cheating with government money,” Faber said.

Bruce was fired in 2020, and the college reduced the number of procurement cards it has available for personnel to make emergency purchases.

On Dec. 20, the state Controlling Board approved a $6 million advance to Eastern Gateway to ensure adequate cash flow. 

The chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education distributes payments and subsidies to colleges and universities for “exceptional circumstances” with Controlling Board approval.

The $6 million amounts to a three-month advance in state share of instruction. The college had requested a six-month advance, or $12 million.

A state official earlier this week said he’s never seen a higher education institution with as dire a financial situation as Eastern Gateway.

The $6 million advance came with a list of conditions that the college must meet. One is that by Jan. 15, it must adopt a board-approved financial recovery plan. It also must conduct an immediate review and elimination of all nonessential expenses.

In August 2022, the U.S. Department of Education placed Eastern Gateway on Heightened Cash Monitoring 2 status, meaning the college must use its own resources to credit student accounts and then wait for federal student aid reimbursements from USDOE.

Eastern Gateway has been on probation since November 2021, as designated by the Higher Learning Commission.

The college retains its accreditation.

In November, the HLC extended the probation until at least November 2024.

Pictured at top: Law enforcement officers at Eastern Gateway Community College’s Steubenville offices Thursday. (Ohio Auditor of State)

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.