ITT Students’ $1.5 Billion Settlement Heard by Judge In Bankruptcy

ITT Students’ $1.5 Billion Settlement Heard by Judge In Bankruptcy

Today, former ITT students proposed a $1.5 billion settlement claim in bankruptcy court that would cancel more than $500 million in debts. All participants in the case and members of the class have until April 24 to submit their views of the settlement with the court before it is heard for final approval on June 13.  This is good news for former ITT students, but there is still a long way to go.

ITT Tech systematically defrauded students. ITT lied to and misled students about financial aid and cost of attendance, job placement and salaries, the quality of equipment and experience of instructors, the employability of ITT graduates, ITT’s programmatic accreditation, the transferability of credits, and career placement assistance.

It would be simpler to list the things ITT didn’t mislead students about.

Data from 2014 show that on average, ITT graduates earn on average the same or less than high school graduates with no college education. Approximately one in five ITT students defaulted on their federal student loans within three years.

Now, a group of ITT students have reached a proposed a settlement with the bankruptcy estate that includes a $1.5 billion allowed claim. In addition to cancelling nearly $600 million in debts, the settlement would also return the $3 million that students paid directly to ITT after it declared bankruptcy. This landmark settlement shows that the only path forward is to cancel fraudulent and unenforceable debts created by predators like ITT.

The settlement is a good start, but there is still a long way to go to make things right for former ITT students.

More than 7,000 former ITT students have submitted borrower defense applications to the Department of Education to cancel their federal student loans. These loans – and the federal loans of all former ITT students, totaling nearly $4 billion – should be cancelled.  ITT’s estate has cancelled the student debts because of the school’s fraudulent actions, and it’s time for the Department of Education and all private holders of ITT debt to do the same.

As Paul Goodwin, a former ITT student, said: “I have still been struggling to pay back my student loans, which I should not even owe because of the way that ITT systematically lied to students. Getting more relief on temporary credit loans is great news for me and my family, but I am still waiting for the Department of Education to discharge my federal student loans.”

We will continue to fight for the Department of Education to meet its legal obligation to cancel these fraudulent student loans.

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Kensinger Named Co-winner of 2018 ABA Tax Section Spragens Pro Bono Award

Legal Services Center volunteer tax attorney Dale Kensinger has been named recipient of the Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award from the American Bar Association’s Tax Section. He will receive the award at a luncheon on February 10, when the Tax Section holds its mid-year meeting in San Diego, California.

The ABA Tax Section established the award in 2002 “to recognize one or more individuals or law firms for outstanding and sustained achievements in pro bono activities in tax law. In 2007 the award was renamed in honor of the late Janet Spragens, who received the award in 2006 in recognition of her dedication to the development of low income taxpayer clinics throughout the United States.”

The Janet Spragens Pro Bono Award is the only annual award given by the Tax Section.

Co-winner of this year’s award is co-winner is Kathryn Sedo.  Sedo directed the low income taxpayer clinic at the University of Minnesota for 35 years before her retirement in May 2016

Kensinger has been a tax lawyer for almost five decades. Through years of service he has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to pro bono activities assisting individuals with their federal tax obligations. He currently volunteers with the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center (LSC) of Harvard Law School, and over the past several years he has volunteered an average of more than 500 hours per year both directly representing clients and assisting students with their cases.

Kensinger also played a vital role in assisting with the start-up of the Tax Clinic at LSC.

In 2012, LSC started a Veterans Legal Clinic. As the Veterans Legal Clinic became operational, its staff noticed that many of its clients needed assistance with tax issues. Because LSC did not have a tax clinic, the Veterans Legal Clinic sought a means of assisting its clients with their tax problems and providing holistic representation wherever possible.

Through conversations with tax lawyers in Boston, the Clinic director learned that the incredibly talented and dedicated former director of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Low Income Tax Clinic (UMKC-LITC) had retired and happened to be living in Boston in order to be nearer family.

A cold call to Kensinger in 2013, followed quickly by a meeting at the Legal Services Center to discuss the unmet tax needs of low-income veterans were all that the former UMKC- LITC director needed to be brought out of retirement. Soon, volunteer law students from Harvard were working under Kensinger’s expert tutelage and praising his kind, patient, and thoughtful mentorship.  As he began to help more and more clients — especially veterans — additional waves of clients began to seek the assistance of the new pro bono project.

As the client base grew, the Veterans Legal Clinic became convinced that it would be beneficial to start a tax clinic at LSC. Out of Kensinger’s volunteer work — and with his expert guidance — grew the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.

Current Federal Tax Clinic Director Keith Fogg — who first worked with Dale in 1977 when they were assigned to the same branch in the Refund Litigation Division of the Office of Chief Counsel, IRS—says “the award could not be going to a more deserving recipient.  Dale’s commitment to low income taxpayers provides a model for lawyers who still have much to offer as they enter the retirement phase of their careers.  We are extremely fortunate to have such a knowledgeable and caring volunteer working in the tax clinic.”

Dan Nagin, Director of the Legal Services Center and the person who recruited Kensinger to work in establishing the tax clinic, stated that “in short order after I reached out to Dale, he was enthusiastically heading a new pro bono project focused on tax at the Legal Services Center and representing scores of clients from the Veterans Clinic before the IRS.”

Kensinger graduated from University of Pennsylvania Law School and served in the military for three years during the Vietnam War era.  Upon the completion of his military obligation, he worked for over three decades with the Office of Chief Counsel, IRS, spending the bulk of his time in the Kansas City field office where he served for many years as the Assistant District Counsel.

After a distinguished career with the government, Kensinger began a second career as a professor and the highly successful co-director of the low income tax clinic at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.  During his time as the director of the low income taxpayer clinic at UMKC, he served in leadership on the Low Income Taxpayer Committee of the Section of Taxation for several years. Kensinger taught at UMKC for a decade before retiring again and moving to Boston in order that he and his wife could live near his daughter — a professor at Boston College — and help care for a granddaughter.

Proposed Settlement to be Heard January 24

A year ago former ITT students filed a complaint against ITT and a class Proof of Claim in the ITT bankruptcy case. In this last year we have worked hard to fight on behalf of the Student Class, including urging the Trustee to stop collection on all debt owed directly to ITT.

Today we are happy to announce that a motion was filed asking the court for preliminary approval of a proposed settlement between the Student Class and the Trustee. The proposed settlement agreement would recognize a $1.5-billion-dollar claim against ITT by students who attended the school between 2006 and 2016, for widespread, systematic fraud and breach of contract. The Students’ allegations included ITT’s use of high-pressure sales tactics to get students to enroll and remain enrolled. It was also alleged that ITT deceived and misled students about financial aid options and costs of attendance, job placement and salary rates, the quality of equipment and experience of instructors, the desirability of ITT graduates by employers, ITT’s accreditation status, the transferability of credits, and career placement assistance.

Some Key Terms of the Agreement

  • All of the nearly $600 million in “temporary credits” — accounts the company claimed students owed directly to ITT — will be canceled. This settlement only cancels debts that were owed directly to ITT and does not affect private or federal student loans.
  • All of the almost $3 million students paid directly to ITT since ITT declared bankruptcy in September 2016 will be returned to students, and there will be accurate credit reporting showing that these accounts have been deleted or paid in full.
  • The Students’ Proofs of Claim will be allowed in the amount of $1.5 billion as unsecured claims. If at the end of the bankruptcy there is money in the estate to pay unsecured claims, the student class will receive a proportional share based on the size of the allowed claim. Any amount distributed to the student class will be divided among the entire student class, and the distribution must be approved by the court.
  • In exchange for the allowed claim, former ITT students give up their claims against the estate of ITT, and keep their rights to seek further relief from the Department of Education and private lenders.

The motion and the settlement agreement will go before the court for preliminary approval on January 24, 2018. If the court grants preliminary approval, there will be a period of time for student class members to review and comment on the agreement and also choose not to participate. After that, we will seek final approval of the settlement from the court.

In our view, the proposed settlement agreement is a victory for former students who were defrauded by ITT. However, we know that the student class still faces billions of dollars of federal and private student loans from ITT and we will continue fight for all ITT-related debt to be canceled.