A federal judge sentenced the Bradley Croft dog training school operator Friday to nearly 10 years in prison for defrauding the GI Bill program with $ 1.5 million.
Its business, Universal K9, made headlines when federal agents raided it in August 2018. Animal Care Services took in 26 of the 31 dogs and found a new home for them.
Croft said he rescued, trained and donated some rescue and protection dogs to police stations. A number of military veterans applying for dog training participated in the program.
However, federal prosecutors argued that Croft defrauded a state commission into accepting Universal K9 as an accredited school so that he could fraudulently collect more than $ 1 million in tuition fees.
Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra found him guilty of fraud in a non-jury trial in 2019 to get on a federally approved list of schools for veterans to attend with their GI Bill benefits.
Croft did not speak Friday during his sentencing. He maintains his innocence, wants a new lawsuit, and plans to appeal.
His attorney, Scott McCrum, called for a prison sentence of less than five years instead of the 22 years recommended by the federal sentencing guidelines in Croft’s prejudice report. Ezra sentenced Croft to nine years and ten months and asked for a refund.
“Brad Croft is not the threat he is supposed to be,” said McCrum. “I am saddened by Croft and his daughter, but relieved by the fairness Judge Ezra has shown in considering what his sentence should be.”
McCrum said Croft struggled through a bitter divorce but won custody of his daughter and then tried to start a business from scratch that would also “do positive things for disadvantaged animals and the community.”
Croft’s lawyers said he bought an RV and parked it in the dusty industrial park near Loop 1604 and Interstate 10 as he navigated the red tape to open his training school, which included the use of rescue or guard dogs. He was converting a building for his school when the government raided the business, McCrum said.
“Universal K9 was real and the training of dogs and handlers was real,” McCrum argued to the judge. “The hundreds of dogs that went through (Universal K9) were not only saved from safe and ultimate destruction, but also became heroes of the first responders and law enforcement agencies they served.
“Your story of drug seizures and arrests has been fantastically successful. The government has not produced a single student veteran who claims they were bamboozled or betrayed, not a single one, “McCrum said.
At the 2019 trial, witnesses said Croft mistakenly used the identities of four dog trainers without their permission to convince the Texas Veterans Commission to accept his application for a Veterans Affairs Department program that allowed veterans to pass their GI bill -Use services to pay for the school.
Prosecutors said one of the coaches had been dead for two years and the other three either disagreed with Croft’s business model or dropped out of contact with him when he submitted their names as part of the application process. They never gave him permission to use their names or certificates, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors also said Croft laundered the money for personal expenses, including a luxury RV, jet skis and a penile implant, and lied to his tax forms about his income.
Ezra found Croft guilty of all cases: eight wire fraud cases, four aggravated identity theft cases, two money laundering cases, and two false tax reporting cases.
Croft switched attorney after the trial, arguing in a motion for a new trial that evidence obtained after his conviction showed that the coaches had given him permission to use their information. Ezra this week denied the request, stating that the information was not new or insignificant.
Croft apologized to former President Donald Trump last year. He never got it.
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