LOS ANGELES — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced the sentencing of Don Azul, 39, of Los Angeles in connection with a years-long scheme he perpetrated against relatives of veterans as well as the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. Posing as an authorized “contractor” for the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet), Azul was alleged to have defrauded more than 40 families throughout California — with a grandparent or other family member who served in the armed forces — into paying at least $500 each for counterfeit CalVet College Fee Waivers. The waivers are a free benefit provided by the State of California that waive tuition and fees at any UC, CSU, or California community college campus for certain eligible students, including children of a military veteran with a 100% service-connected disability. As part of a plea deal, Azul has agreed to serve three years and four months in state prison and has been ordered by the Los Angeles Superior Court to pay over $450,000 in restitution.
“Fraudsters and bad actors seeking to exploit our military service members and their families will be held accountable. Today makes that clear,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As California’s chief law enforcement officer, I will continue doing everything in my power to ensure that those who put their lives on the line for our country, or their families, are not preyed upon.”
The California Department of Justice (CA DOJ) thanks the University of California, California State University, and the California Department of Veterans Affairs for their assistance in this case, and for the actions they have taken to prevent future fraud against the CalVet college fee waiver program. CA DOJ also thanks the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General and the police departments of several universities — specifically of the University of California, Santa Cruz; Sonoma State University; California State University, Long Beach; and California State University, San Marcos — for serving as part of the interagency team that investigated this case and brought it to a successful conclusion.
Azul pleaded no contest to seven felony counts: three counts of grand theft, two counts of forging a government seal, one count of forgery by false document, and one count of unauthorized use of personal identifying information. He also admitted to violating Penal Code 186.11(a)(2), the aggravated white collar enhancement for causing a loss of over $500,000.
Azul’s arrest was announced on August 12, 2022. He was alleged to have approached military families, lied to them about their eligibility for the CalVet College Fee waiver, and purported to approve them for the fee waiver. After providing these families with fraudulent waiver letters, Azul then instructed the families to present the letters to the schools. Not realizing the letters were counterfeit, school officials accepted the letters and waived the students’ tuition. The amount of tuition waived varied from approximately $5,800 per school year at CSUs to approximately $12,000 per year at UCs. In total, the scheme resulted in the theft of at least $30,000 from the relatives of veterans and over $500,000, in public funds from approximately 23 universities in the form of waived tuition.
Attorney General Bonta is committed to protecting service members, veterans, and their families. On September 1, 2023, he announced a settlement with The Money Source, Inc., resolving allegations that the company failed to properly process, and timely grant, mortgage deferment requests made by California military reservists called to active duty. On August 22, 2023, he announced filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a U.S. veteran’s attempt to access the full 48 months of educational benefits under the GI Bill that he had earned through his service as both an Army officer and an enlisted soldier. On August 9, 2023, he sent a letter to Congress expressing his support for bipartisan federal legislation that aims to protect veterans from financial exploitation. On August 4, 2023, he reminded California veterans who were exposed to dangerous toxins in the course of their service to submit a claim for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, or notify the VA of their intent to file to obtain benefits under the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. On July 26, 2023, he joined a bipartisan coalition of 24 attorneys general in submitting a letter to Congress in support of H.R. 1255, the Sgt. Isaac Woodard, Jr. and Sgt. Joseph H. Maddox GI Bill Restoration Act of 2023.
A copy of the criminal complaint is available here.