Tyrone Hankerson, Jr. called in the help of Washington DC attorney James Walker to set the record straight and spoke out for the first time with Roland Martin about being at the center of a Howard University scandal. Hankerson is accused of stealing $429,000 from funds earmarked for financial aid.
Hankerson said since the Medium story (now deleted) was published, accusing six school employees of stealing more than $1 million earmarked for financial aid, his life has been hell. Social media has mocked him by circulating pictures of him living lavishly, wearing furs, basking on beaches and traveling overseas.
Hankerson told Martin exclusively that he’s trying to keep his head up, but worries about the backlash since he’s still a Howard University student.
“It’s been an extremely difficult time as you can imagine,” he said. “I am trying to remain optimistic about this situation although it has been a challenge, particularly about going to class worrying about safety and welfare concerns.”
Hankerson said he is a law school student and will graduate May 12th.
“I will be walking across the stage,” he said.
But Hankerson denies that he did anything wrong and said much of the information that was leaked is inaccurate. He says the whole situation is part of a bigger plan to set up the school’s President Dr. Wayne Frederick for a downfall.
Hankerson explained that days before the anonymous Medium post, a group called for Frederick’s resignation. Immediately after that, he said, the article was released saying that he and others had embezzled money from the University. Hankerson says it was “a ploy to stick it to Dr. Frederick.”
Martin asked: “Did you embezzle $429,000?”
Hankerson responded, “No. I have not embezzled any money ever and I have not taken or embezzled $429,000 from Howard University. That is absolutely false.”
Martin replied: “Where do you think this is coming from?”
Hankerson responds: “I think that that requires a little more context to understand what is going on with the University. I’m being used as a means to get Dr. Frederick out of his position.”
His attorney Walker then explained that part of the money Hankerson received was a student stipend because he was working at the school. He had been at the school for seven years and not four as previously reported.
“I want to make it clear to folks that there’s the scholarships you get, the grants you get… there’s going abroad… there’s also money you get when you work in an office at the school,” Walker said. “So it looks like 60-70,000 a year but if you bifurcate it you’ll see it can be very detailed and explained, as he (Hankerson) explained to me when I first sat with him and asked him how this happened.”
Hankerson then said he has not received $429,000. He said he actually received over $200,000 during his undergrad years. Hankerson said he received such a large amount because he went to school year-round.
Hankerson worked in the school’s financial aid office from 2011 to 2015 as a student worker. He said he was essentially an assistant to the directors.
“The money that was awarded to me was through the discretion of university officials who had the authority to make those decisions,” Hankerson said.
Hankerson has now deactivated all of his social media accounts, but that doesn’t mean the internet doesn’t still have receipts. Photos of the former Howard Law student show him living his best life with expensive clothes, designer bags and even a personal videographer to chronicle the best parts of his life.
Hankerson Jr. has since issued a statement to ABC News thanking his supporters and saying that “I have done nothing illegal or wrong. When the truth comes out, it will be confirmed that I followed all rules and protocol with the approval of the then financial aid officers in any grants, scholarships or awards given to me as a student who attended class all year round and traveled abroad.”
Follow the money
Howard University’s president Wayne Frederick released a statement acknowledging that an audit of their 2006 to 2016 records found that there were university grants that were awarded to some employees that were also receiving tuition remission. But the funds were mishandled and taken by those employees, which equaled more than the cost of attendance, allowing them to receive “inappropriate refunds.”
“While this has been a very difficult and disappointing situation, I know our campus community deserves better and I am committed to insuring that each of our campus offices operate with integrity and are the best that higher education has to offer,” said Frederick.
An outside auditor spearheaded the investigation and once the misappropriation of funds was determined, the school alerted the Department of Education in July 2017. By September, the six employees were fired for “gross misconduct and neglect of duties.” And a whistleblower shared the information earlier today on the blogging platform, Medium (which has since been deleted.)
Frederick released a statement, outlining new policies implemented after the incident including all awards of university grants are now reviewed and approved by the Budget Office prior to being awarded by the Financial Aid Office.